The Afghan football coach training Mexican street kids for their own 'World Cup'

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The Afghan football coach training Mexican street kids for their own 'World Cup'

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Thomson Reuters Foundation/Joshua Mena Sada
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Meet Khalida Popal, she's training a Mexican street kids’ football team headed to their very own version of the World Cup in Russia this May.

Except Popal is not Mexican. She was the first captain of the woman's football team in Afghanistan until she was forced to flee after receiving death threats from the Taliban. Now, she is getting a squad of girls ready for the Street Child World Cup in Russia.

"I know what is being without identity, being without family, being without networks, and what always helped me to come through that tough and difficult situation was to play football," said Popal, an ambassador for Street Child United.

Thomson Reuters Foundation/Joshua Mena Sada
Khalida Popal coaches girls from Team Mexico for the Street Child World Cup, Mexico City, April 3, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Joshua Mena Sada

Popal is coaching a team of nine girls soon heading to the tournament in Russia — where teams of orphaned and street kids meet to play football before the World Cup kicks off.

"It's going great and I am so happy and honoured to train these girls. They are very 'coachable', they are cool girls, talented girls, they enjoy playing football."

With up to 150 million children living on the streets worldwide, according to the United Nations, the organisers hope the event can help erase the stigma and help improve how these kids are treated.

Mariana Nicol, a former street child now living at a care home, is one of the girls. For her football was always a passion but she never imagined she would train and play for Mexico.

"It's super exciting, I can't believe it, I feel like it's a dream," said the 14-year-old, who is trying to finish primary school.

Even if they come from miles away, the Mexican girls can relate to Popal's story of overcoming intimidation to play soccer.

"When you enter the pitch you forget about everything and the only thing you think about is the ball and the game and that's the beauty of football."

Popal fled Afghanistan in 2004 and received asylum in Denmark where she started a non-profit that uses sports to help integrate immigrant women, LGBT, and other minority groups.