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Meet the football team from Pakistan who won the hearts of crowds in Qatar

Team Pakistan competing at the Street Child World Cup in Doha, Qatar
Team Pakistan competing at the Street Child World Cup in Doha, Qatar Copyright Gregory Ward
Copyright Gregory Ward
By Gregory Ward
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"In Pakistan, more than 22 million children are out of school, and more than 7.5 million children are on the streets."

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SCENES shines a spotlight on youth worldwide who are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

On a perfectly groomed football pitch in Qatar, a group of young boys from Pakistan stand poised and ready to represent their country. These boys are not part of a typical football team nor hail from privileged backgrounds. 

They participated in the Street Child World Cup involving 28 teams from 24 countries. It was a football tournament for street-connected children facing adversity. The competition took place ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. 

Sallam Atif Shafiq
The team trained in Muslim Hand's Sports Academy in Mirpur, PakistanSallam Atif Shafiq

"Street Child World Cup is for those children who have a lot of talent but don't have the facilities to play," explains Tufail, a 17-year-old football player from Landi Kotal in Pakistan.

'Homelessness, poverty, and neglect'

International Islamic charity Muslim Hands sponsored and travelled with the Pakistan team to Qatar's capital city, Doha. The charity's regional Executive Manager, Muhammad Suleman, says that many children in Pakistan suffer from homelessness, poverty, and neglect.

"In Pakistan, more than 22 million children are out of school, and more than 7.5 million children are on the streets," Muhammad Suleman tells SCENES. "We engage these children through our mechanism of 17 academies all over Pakistan. We engage them through football," he adds.

Sallam Atif Shafiq
Pakistan team trained for many months in preparation for the tournamentSallam Atif Shafiq

'I love football.'

The charity views football as essential to improving children's mental and physical health. Sahil Gul, a 17-year-old football player from Punjab, Pakistan, says football has a special connection to his heart. "I love football; I feel restless when I don't play. It's the kind of sport that cheers me up if I am upset," he says.

The team began training over a year ago after a series of nationwide football trials. "Our coach, Mr Rasheed, took us under his wing and trained us well. He taught us how to play football professionally and stressed the importance of unity and brotherhood," says Suhil.

Sallam Atif Shafiq
Head Coach Muhammad Rasheed says the team are strong in faith, skill and mindSallam Atif Shafiq

Muhammad Rasheed is the Head Coach of the team and is a former national football player. Muhammad told SCENES that Muslim Hands provides young footballers with accommodation, mentorship, equipment and food. "These are street children, so in addition to football, we look into their everyday behaviour and teach them how to improve their lives," he says.

The tournament was held in Qatar Foundation's Education Education City on the outskirts of Doha. Travelling outside of Pakistan was a new experience for the boys, and they were excited to represent their country.

'Every player's dream'

"This is every player's dream. Every Pakistani football player wishes to wear the Pakistani colour and to represent Pakistan," says Suhail. "I'm thrilled that I was among the people who got to represent Pakistan. There are so many people in Pakistan; out of all of them, only ten got to go. And I was among those ten." adds Tufail.

Anthony Geagea
The Pakistan boys team battled hard against Sudan at the Street Child World Cup in Doha, QatarAnthony Geagea

The team won their first three matches against Sudan, Qatar and Bosnia and Herzegovina and then faced Tanzania in the quarter-final. "The competition went very well. In the quarter-final, we won by two goals. And then we qualified for the semifinal," explains Tufail.

The Pakistan team replicated their previous triumphs and secured a spot in the final against Egypt. The fierce competition between the two teams resulted in an intense penalty shoot-out, and a crowd gathered to cheer on both sides. However, victory escaped Pakistan in the game's last minutes, and Egypt emerged as the ultimate champions.

Gregory Ward
Members of the Pakistani team pose for a photo with other national teams at the Street Child World Cup in Doha, QatarGregory Ward

'A voice for children in Pakistan'

"I am extremely proud of these boys. I know that when they return to Pakistan, they are heroes," says Muhammad Suleman from Muslim Hands. "This team is a voice for children in Pakistan who are at risk, a voice for the millions of children out of school and those living on the streets," he adds.

Despite being unable to secure the top spot, Sahil hopes that the team's performance will inspire other street-connected children in Pakistan living in poverty. "My message to people is, never stop working hard and never lose courage. Keep your passion above all else and never lose it," he says.

Gregory Ward
Team Pakistan won the hearts of the crowds watching in Doha, QatarGregory Ward

Team Pakistan's journey in the Street Child World Cup was extraordinary. They demonstrated true grit and determination. The team may not have won the tournament, but it undoubtedly won the hearts of the crowds watching in Qatar.

Ramadan is a busy time for the charity Many Hands, as they continue to support the football player's well-being and financial needs. They also work around the clock to provide food and shelter for street children across Pakistan.

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