Afghanistan women are not only about hijab and purdah, as many may perceive. Breaking the notion, a bunch of 16 from that country are competing in the U-17 category of the Subroto Cup tournament's newly introduced girls' event.
Cracking jokes and teasing each other, they shout "Afghan-Afghan" from the stands, cheering the U-14 boys' team as they play for a semifinal spot on a sunny Friday afternoon.
Captain Zarafshan is proud to be a part of the tournament and is excited to come to India. "For me, this is no less than a dream. I have seen India only in movies," says the Class 9 student from Kabul. She says life was tough for the women under the Taliban. "We could not even step out of our homes under the Taliban rule, but things have changed. We go to school, meet our friends, and above all, pursue our interests. Girls also play cricket, volleyball and basketball."
Cristiano Ronaldo is Zarafshan's ultimate football hero. "My non-football friends admire him for his looks, but I love his game," she says. She is interrupted by Mariam, who adores Lionel Messi, and a debate follows.
The boys' team loses, and the girls break into tears. "We know winning and losing are a part of the game, but for us this not just any other tournament. We want to prove we too are as good as any other team," says Mariam.
Her teammate Sheila gets attention merely because of her name. Mariam breaks out singing Sheila ki Jawani and others laugh. “All their parents are very supportive. They have been training only for the last three months so the competition will be tough but they will learn a lot," coach Faiz Mohammad says in Persian, and Zarafshan translates.