When the dream of playing became a nightmare in Kabul, Portugal became a new start for 26 girls from Afghanistan’s young women’s football teams, who fled the country in the face of the Taliban’s return to power. Now, the opponent was a team from the youth teams of Benfica, formed by under-15 and under-16 players, in a joint training in which the result was not the most important, but in which each Afghan goal was a celebration.
With a steady gaze and speaking as quickly as if he were still on the run from his country, a 15 year old confessed to Lusa his anger at seeing the Taliban regime return to power and reinstate restrictions on women’s freedom, for whom playing football can be an offense that would cost them their lives. In the speech, the contradiction of feelings stands out: the joy of escaping from a bleak future and the concern for the families that were supported behind.
“I came with my brother, my sister and my father, but my little brother and my mother are still in Afghanistan. I’m very worried about them. The situation is getting worse overnight. It’s unbelievable, everything it can happen. We should have the right to live like these girls here. Now I can’t do anything, but I’ll try to show in the future that I’m powerful”, he said, defiantly, emphasizing:”[Os talibãs] are not human”.
They arrived in Lisbon on September 19, following an escape of more than 6,000 kilometers and after weeks of fear, spent in hiding, trying to outwit opponents much more difficult than those they usually have within the four lines. And when the Afghan government collapsed, Sadaf still insisted that it was all a joke.
“The day the Taliban, I was at school and the other girls said, ‘Let’s go home, the Taliban arrived.’ I saw it on television … My God, everything was destroyed in one day “, she recalled, while her teammates – equipped with red, black ‘leggings’ under their shorts and many with headscarves – looked for the goal on the pitch.
A new game is starting now in Portugal, “a good country” to start again, said an Afghan midfielder, thanking the people for welcoming and the government’s effort to also bring the families. A sentiment shared by Parisa Amiri, who, at age 17, assumed the desire to assert herself in football and still study engineering.
“We are very happy to come to Portugal, because in Afghanistan they wouldn’t let us play football and here we can play, we can have our goals here, we can improve our lives. These are our wishes: to play football and to be better players in the future.” secured the defense.
The Taliban threat to “cut off their heads” to women playing football still echoes in Parisa’s memory. “It’s not right what they’re doing. We have the right to study and play football,” he said, with tears still lingering in his eyes, remembering the days before the escape from the country: “Before escaping in hiding with our families , a backpack, two pieces of clothing … “
With no bench of substitutes, as teammates they exchange smiles, talk and applaud some plays. Standing and taking the game more seriously, Farkhunda Muhtaj is giving almost continuous indications to the field and talking to players seated at his rear.
The 23-year-old captain of the Afghan women’s soccer team lives in Canada, but recently came to Lisbon to help integrate these young people, for whom she was already a reference and highlighted the “opportunity of a lifetime” that happened in Portugal : “They will now train in Portugal, they will have an education, they already love the city and the country and will positively impact Portuguese society”, he assured.
“In Afghanistan, playing football is against social norms and so many women are not well regarded when they compete in sports, but football is their identity, their passion and they are determined. new chapter in their life is an excellent opportunity for them and they will surpass themselves”.
In addition to the game on the synthetic turf next to the Estádio da Luz, the Afghan youth also received a set of offers from Benfica, including local football boots and notebooks. The gifts were distributed as ‘incarnate’ players and the president of the Benfica Foundation, Carlos Móia, who highlighted the need to receive these young people in the best way possible.
“It’s a pleasure to receive people who have passed and who are going through the internal problem with the Taliban. It’s our role, it’s the least we can do: welcome people. And we Portuguese know how to receive,” he stressed, without ceasing to reinforcing: “I hope they stay in Portugal. We have to know how to share and monitor”.
Also Read: Afghanistan: Politicians hold 1st press conference under Taliban regime