Street Child World Cup: Not the title, but Pakistani kids win a lot of hearts

Published: April 6, 2014
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Pakistani players pose for photographers before the match against India, during the second edition of the Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on April 1, 2014. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Pakistani players pose for photographers before the match against India, during the second edition of the Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on April 1, 2014. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

KARACHI: 

“What kind of response are we getting so far? Are people following us?” asked Itfan Maqbool while talking to The Express Tribune a few days ago.

Maqbool, an official accompanying Pakistan’s contingent in the Street Child World Cup 2014 taking place in Rio, Brazil, wasn’t aware of the attention the kids were getting half a world away, back home in Pakistan.

Team Pakistan was to play their quarter-final game against the Philippines. And their run to the semi-finals of the tournament had the attention of the nation.

They fell to Burundi 3-4 in a dramatic semi-final on Saturday, which they led 3-1 at the half, but the kids have won a lot of hearts – and not only back home.

“Everyone, the crowd and participants, chanted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ with us after the match,” the Azad Foundation official told The Express Tribune right after the match. In a gesture worthy of an example for all sports at all levels, team Pakistan celebrated with Burundi on their win.  “These children have showed such a sporting spirit and appreciated Burundi for playing well.”

“Even a coach from England who works with English Premier League clubs praised our team. Everyone loved the way our boys played. They appreciated their game. Abdul Raziq and Aurangzeb Baba have made a great impression too, for their individual performances.”

The team topped Group Three scoring 18 goals in their four matches against teams including India (13-0), Kenya (2-0) Mauritius (3-0) and playing a draw with the US (1-1) in their campaign to qualify for the quarter-finals.

They also defeated the Philippines 3-2 to progress into the semi-finals of the seven-a-side tournament.

Pakistan remained the best team in terms of goal average. They scored 19 goals and conceded only one against the US, which was an own goal in the unfortunate moment by a Pakistani defender.

The long road to Rio

Pakistan’s incredible success at the SCWC in Brazil is not a fluke; in fact the nine players in the squad proved their worth not only as footballers, but also as brave individuals.

These children have overcome the life of being homeless, exposed to violence, drugs and petty crimes before taking part in the SCWC.

Sameer Ahmed, Abdul Raziq, Aurangzeb Baba, Salman Hussain, Owais Ali, Quetta’s Faizan Fayyaz, Muhammad Shoaib, Mehr Ali and Rajab Ali have created history.

All but one player were selected from the mean streets of Karachi after a vigorous talent-hunt by the Azad Foundation in the impoverished localities of the country.

The final phase to prepare for Rio began in November last year in Ibrahim Hyderi, while the SCWC co-founder Chris Rose also witnessed the match among the local teams.

The selection criteria was based upon a child’s experience living homeless and their rehabilitation process besides their football skills, which was accessed by the coaches.

But the most interesting fact remains that the Pakistan Football Federation was not involved in the process.

Azad Foundation coach Abdul Rashid, who groomed the players in three months, and only took one month to exclusively train the nine-players for the tournament said the journey for him has changed his life along with the players.

“It’s an amazing experience, training these kids has also changed me,” said Rashid. “We’ve lived together at the Sharafi Goth football ground, I know each one of them like a family member, and now I can only say that their performance can speak of their talent.”

Rashid said that for the players, it’s more than just a game. Most of the children in the camp have faced hardships, a period of abandonment and most importantly each player had to find a way to get out of the street from within.

“They have been exposed to many things, some of them were also into drugs, but now they are the role models to learn from,” said Rashid. “Each of them had a rough life on the streets but they realised that they can change their situation by coming to the shelter homes.

‘That was their first step to coming back to the normal life. None of these children had been trained before. But they have been very quick to learn the techniques.”

Rashid empahsised that participating in the SCWC, however, has given them a new motivation to live.

Owais Ali, the 15-year-old from New Karachi, said his biggest joy is to represent Pakistan internationally.

Owais now goes to school and lives with his mother.

“I had run away from my home because my father used to beat me,” said Owais. “I must be seven years old. I’d spent three-four years alone. But it all changed when I came to the shelter. I remember meeting with my mother after seven years. She just kept crying when she saw me. When I asked her why was she crying she told me that she missed me but at the same time she thought that I had forgotten her.”

Owais’ story resonates with other team-members as well. Each of them ran away from home due to the fighting in their families.

“I’m playing for my mother, because I’m all she has. She was very happy to see me play football again. I had always loved playing football, but I stopped playing it when I was on the streets,” said the team’s mid-fielder.

The most crucial part for these layers had been reuniting with their families.

This is the stage where NGOs like Azad Foundation work. They trace the families so that these children can go back to their lives and better human beings who can support their loved ones.

“I lived on the streets for four years, it wasn’t easy,” said Hussain. “Battled with things, but now I’m here. I come from a Bengali family. I have five brothers, but I had left home because my parents wouldn’t talk to me. Now it’s different. I don’t go to the school but I learned technical skills in the shelter home. Besides football, I love to cook; I’ve even cooked for the team when we were in the camp. I want to become a chef.

“But at the same time I will come back from Brazil and work with other street children too. I’ll tell them that they need to change their situation on their own, they need to help themselves first,” said Salman.

On the other hand, Pakistan top scorer in the tournament Abdul Raziq said he always wanted to be a footballer. Raziq had told The Express Tribune, before leaving for Brazil, that he wanted to make a career in the sport. He used to set up a fruit stall in Mauripur. Rashid said he picked up Raziq from outside a football ground.

“I used to roam around on the streets. Sometimes I would put a make-shift fruit stall near the football stadiums so that I could see people play. I’ve always loved football, I want to play like [Lionel] Messi,” said Raziq.

Striker Aurangzeb Baba has a different story.

According to Rashid, the teenager would never talk to others but his personality changes when he plays football.

“Aurangzeb is always very silent. He doesn’t talk much, but he observes. Earlier, he would get very scared if anyone tried to communicate with him, he wouldn’t tell his story when he came to the shelter, but he is a very bold player,” said Rashid.

Aurangzeb has made his coach proud. He scored a hat-trick against Mauritius 3-0 in the Group Three match, and also scored against India, the US and Kenya.

Success changes everything

According to Maqbool, the most difficult phase for the team was to get the visas for Brazil.

“None of these children had any documents, even their parents don’t have their proper documents and identity cards, so it was very challenging to collect every child’s documents and apply for the visa. We really needed some understanding and help from the passport department of country… but they didn’t cooperate with us at all. In fact, reaching Rio was the biggest achievement for us,” said Maqbool.

“The system didn’t help us, but some individuals understood us and helped these children. Till March 26, I was still running to get two passports from Islamabad. It was the most difficult thing.”

The team landed in Rio on March 28 after a 14.5-hour flight and played their
first match against India on April 1.

With the team’s success Maqbool said he is receiving calls from the Sindh governor and other officials now.

“Now I’m getting calls, but initially the system didn’t work for us, didn’t help us. I hope this win from our team is not just a triumph on the football field, but also for the street children all over the country,” said Maqbool.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (32)

  • Thatsjustme
    Apr 6, 2014 - 10:32AM

    What a wonderful story. I hope these children carry these lessons into their lives and work at making Pakistan a progressive place to live.

    Recommend

  • Sohraab
    Apr 6, 2014 - 12:06PM

    BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO, Hats off to these Brave Children of Pakistan. I am feeling so proud after reading this article. They should get a Hero’s welcome and the Government should offer these gems of Pakistan a financial support enabling them to complete there education.

    Recommend

  • Hanif
    Apr 6, 2014 - 1:28PM

    Inspirational!

    Recommend

  • Naureen
    Apr 6, 2014 - 1:47PM

    I have tears of happiness in my eyes so so proud of them hope no corruption occurs in street football pakistan then only they can be succeeded all the best for their future

    Recommend

  • Salman Ahmed
    Apr 6, 2014 - 2:23PM

    This group of children with help of their foundation has won a impossible battle, their poignant tale will be an inspiration for many!! Wish them all the best for their future! Pakistan is proud of its boys!

    Recommend

  • nadeem
    Apr 6, 2014 - 3:18PM

    No Hollywood producer could have come up with a script even close to this – and this is reality, not fiction.

    Recommend

  • Apr 6, 2014 - 3:26PM

    pakistani nation is proud of you guys.

    Recommend

  • Nikki
    Apr 6, 2014 - 3:42PM

    The real shining stars of Pakistan.God bless them and help them.

    Recommend

  • Erum J
    Apr 6, 2014 - 4:02PM

    What a great story, May all these kids prosper in their lives!Recommend

  • Aamer Ali
    Apr 6, 2014 - 4:06PM

    Bravo Team Pakistan! You have made proud. Let’s hope that they get the attention and care that they want in order to succeed and become international footballers.

    Recommend

  • Urooj
    Apr 6, 2014 - 4:21PM

    Its better to keep tbe government out of their lives as everything they touch turns into a mess. They ended up in the streets because the government could not protect them.

    Recommend

  • Muhammad
    Apr 6, 2014 - 4:43PM

    Inspirational! simply inspirational. Lesson for us all. I’ll just quote that 15 years older boy:

    “But at the same time I will come back from Brazil and work with other street children too. I’ll tell them that they need to change their situation on their own, they need to help themselves first,” said Salman.

    Kudos! You made us and yourself proud.

    Recommend

  • Aiman Mubashir
    Apr 6, 2014 - 4:44PM

    Proud of the team.

    Recommend

  • Unknown
    Apr 6, 2014 - 5:27PM

    Salute for these boys.

    Recommend

  • Unknown
    Apr 6, 2014 - 5:52PM

    Thanks to almighty, there was no one in the management team who says “It is all due to great efforts of Faisal Salyeh Hayat”, otherwise Pakistan wouldn’t have won a single match. Also thanks to Faisal Salyeh Hayat for not taking interest in Street Children Worldcup otherwise we wouldn’t have enjoyed so much.

    Recommend

  • Zahid Junejo
    Apr 6, 2014 - 6:30PM

    Masha Allah! Kids did brilliant…not only in the field but in their lives! These champions are inspiring others! My prayers are with these boys and their families and the people behind the scene who made this happen. God Bless Each One of You!

    I just hope that this doesn’t end here. This achievement should be highlighted from now on till we see change in the entire country. It can happen only if we are sincere. I know someone will come along make a movie out of this with a brilliant cast and here I refer to the Hollywood and Bollywood world and then everyone will make big bucks out of this and then forget these kids along the way. I do not object to making movies out of success and inspirational realities like this but I want that those who made this should not be forgotten and those who will benefit from this change and take lead from these realities should not be trampled over.

    This is a change which every sane human being in this world should wish for.

    Stay Blessed and Happy!

    Recommend

  • HAS
    Apr 6, 2014 - 8:05PM

    Now there are are the ones that should be receiving plots in Bahria town, not Afridi!

    Recommend

  • Maqsood
    Apr 6, 2014 - 9:02PM

    And Pakistan have won against USA for 3rd place. Pakistan is proud of its boys!

    Recommend

  • Abdul jabbar
    Apr 6, 2014 - 9:27PM

    شاباش شاہین بچو، ہمیں تم پہ ناز ہے ۔Recommend

  • Yasir Mehmood
    Apr 6, 2014 - 10:20PM

    Congratulations and you deserve the best :)

    Recommend

  • Masud Latif
    Apr 6, 2014 - 11:01PM

    Mr. Blatter,

    Are u listening. Do not invest in Pakistan football federation because u will not get any good player from them, it is the streets of this country which would provide you good players. Please do something in this regard.

    Regards

    Recommend

  • Malik
    Apr 7, 2014 - 5:05AM

    If every Pakistani’s spirit was as strong as these boys’ then just see how quickly this country would rise up from turmoil.
    Unfortunately, most of us will simply read this article feel some pride and move on with our daily lives, without a further thought about these kids, the streets, this city, and this country.

    Recommend

  • M.Samad.Karim
    Apr 7, 2014 - 9:28AM

    Amazing Mashaaa Allah…. These kids have really made us proud and represented Pakistan where it had no existance. I hope they play a vital role in bringing up Pakistani Football.

    Recommend

  • kamran
    Apr 7, 2014 - 12:06PM

    What is Next.Any One In Pakistan will patronize FOOTBall and these Kids And other kids who want to play Football,because of win we are appreciating today and tomorrow we will forget every thing.

    Recommend

  • sidra zafar
    Apr 7, 2014 - 1:27PM

    these kids are making all the Pakistani’s to feel proud of themselves. this is a great victory and obviously, these kids need a big round of applause. well done kids (Y)

    Recommend

  • Aziz
    Apr 7, 2014 - 1:39PM

    These kids have a lot of potential and promise. My friends and I are offering to support the AZAD FOUNDATION to help them get these children get education too.

    May I request any of their responsible office-bearer to kindly get in touch with me through “The Express Herald Tribune” please ?

    Recommend

  • barkat Ali
    Apr 8, 2014 - 12:04AM

    Shabash welldon my lions of pakistan we love you !!!!

    Recommend

  • Qasim
    Apr 8, 2014 - 2:03AM

    Welll done guys now Pak should focus on football and get rid that la<y cricket

    Recommend

  • ZAHID RIAZ
    Apr 8, 2014 - 8:54AM

    Well done Pakistan team…..and the management who produce miracles out of these gems….now it is the need of time to continue to support these gems so the talent should not go waste……I appreciate the people like Aziz to come forward and help these ……Pakistan Zindabad

    Recommend

  • Syed Rashdi
    Apr 8, 2014 - 11:49AM

    little lions u made nation proud…Hats off to heros of Pakistan

    Recommend

  • Haroon Ahmed
    May 3, 2014 - 7:13PM

    Mashallah I am so proud for these children, I am a very good footballer although my youth is slowly coming to a end… I am very interested in bringing these kids to England so I can train them the basics and give them the advice and support they need to progress, hey if they’ve got this far under the current circumstances it shows they have a lot of talent and do have what it takes to progress and do Pakistan proud. Last year I personally wrote a 3 page letter and sent it to Pakistan’s National sports federation requesting the opportunity for me to travel to Pakistan to speak and train the children there in mainly footballRecommend

  • waleed khan swati
    Jul 10, 2014 - 1:28PM

    plz also give a chance to middle class children who wants to play ftbl but due to less facilities ,they didn’t get this opportunity. plz this z an appeal. Waleed SWATI mansehra kpkRecommend

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