Norway beckons street children’s team [Express Tribune]

Norway beckons street children’s team [Express Tribune]

KARACHI: After winning numerous hearts in Brazil, Pakistan’s bronze-winning squad at the Street Child World Cup will take its game to the next level as they prepare to take part in the 2014 Norway Cup on July 27 in Oslo.

The Street Child World Cup squad – originally prepared by the Azad Foundation for the seven-a-side event in Brazil – will now compete in an 11-a-side event, which will feature teams from 40 to 50 countries in the junior U12-U19 categories for both the boys’ and girls’ events.

Azad Foundation official and team manager Itfan Maqbool said that the event will be a challenge for Pakistan.

“The Norway Cup is one of the world’s biggest youth football events, and we are ready to take on the challenge,” Maqbool told The Express Tribune. “The Pakistani community there wanted our Street Child World Cup team to avail this opportunity and showcase their talent on a higher level.”

Original squad strength increased

Some new faces have been added to make a competitive 16-member squad after a rigorous selection process, according to Maqbool.

The team has been training for the tournament for over a month with three coaches at the Friends Club near Sohrab Goth.

“We held trials for three days in four areas: Lyari, Malir, Gulshane Iqbal and FB Area,” said Maqbool. “The new players are not homeless children, but they were selected for their footballing skills.

“They are neglected children who are not going to school. At least 300 children showed up for the trials, we shortlisted them to 50, then 22 after finally selecting the best talent.”

He added that the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is also supporting the project.

PFF Secretary Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi said that it is important for street footballers to be integrated in the formal football system.

“We are supporting the Azad Foundation and these young footballers, but they need to come under the umbrella of the PFF,” said Lodhi.

“These players need to be brought into the formal system so that they can get better training and opportunities for the establishment of their bright future.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2014.