‘I am the national coach of 39 million Afghans, not the Taliban’

Conditions at the Gloria Stadium in Antalya, a Turkish resort, were almost perfect. One evening under the sun and on a beautiful football field, Dutch national coach Anoush Dastgir (31) begins his training camp for the Afghanistan men’s football team. This is the first time the Taliban have been together since taking power in Kabul in August. Players can’t wait to play football together again, but must first run a few rounds to warm-up.

After rounds on the dirt track, the players’ patience is tested. Mohammad Yousuf Karkar, president of the Afghanistan Football Association, wants to address the selection. He is coming to deliver a message from the new rulers. “The Taliban support you, they support football.” International Faisal Shayste (30) can’t suppress a smile. He looks around and sees only fellow internationals who have fled groups like the Taliban. Like Thaksin Shinawatra, Shoesthe fled to the Netherlands as a refugee. The team consists mainly of fugitives from Afghanistan to the United States to corner accelerators around the world.

In football ethnic groups work together

The team had to skip two international matches due to the political turmoil in the country. For a long time, the focus was on expelling football players, sometimes complete women’s teams. But calls are mounting from Afghanistan to watch the national football men’s team play. The Dastgir team is very popular in Afghanistan and is on the verge of qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time in history. A match watched by a billion people, which is where the Afghans call their ‘Lions of Corrosion’, the national team. See to shine. The team symbolizes a transformed Afghanistan in which players of different ethnic groups, such as the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, can work together and win, unlike in politics. “You still have your voice, so let the world hear our voice,” Shayste receives such messages from Afghans via Instagram.

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Turkish correspondent Mitra Nasser visits Afghanistan national team in Antalya:

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