The battle of boots on the football field keeps Mahmoud al Amna’s mind off his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria.
But off the field, his heart travels 5,500km from west of Mizoram, a state often called an “island of peace”, to his war-torn home.
A midfielder, the 34-year-old Amna is the backbone of Aizawl FC, which is on the cusp of creating history if it beats the more fancied Mohun Bagan in a crucial I-League match scheduled on Saturday.
The tranquility in Mizoram – vehicles do not honk in state capital Aizawl – inadvertently makes Amna drawn into a comparison.
“Things are so quiet here, and there’s hardly anything to do outside when practice is over. And yes, the quietness does make me think of what war has done to my country,” he told HT at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium at Mualpui on the outskirts of Aizawl.
Amna had left Syria six years ago when the war clouds were rumbling over the country’s largest city Aleppo.
The Syrian Civil War began with the confrontation in Aleppo between the Russia-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad and the country’s opposition that had support form Islamic States and the Al-Nusra Front affiliated to Al-Qaeda.
Assad’s forces regained control of Aleppo in December last year, but the war left the West Asian country devastated. Aleppo was the worst affected.
“I left Syria to play in the Iraq, Iran and Malaysian super leagues before moving to India two seasons ago to play for Mohammedan Sporting and now Aizawl FC. My wife, an Egyptian, is living in Egypt but my brothers, sisters, other members of my family have stayed back,” Amna said.
Can get bad news anytime
“Anywhere in Syria is not safe, especially Aleppo. I can get bad news anytime, but I pray and hope everything works out fine and the conflict ends,” he said.
The Syrian praised the local Mizo players of Aizawl FC. “They are good and have it in them to play on a bigger platform.”
Meanwhile, Aizawl FC coach Khalid Jamil said his team’s victory on Saturday against the formidable Mohun Bagan will be the “perfect birthday gift”.
The players celebrated his birthday modestly after practice on Friday morning.