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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 August 2007, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Afghan women footballers kick off
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kabul

Girls play football during a tournament in Kabul in July
Girls weren't allowed to play sport under the Taleban
The Afghanistan women's international football team is travelling abroad for the first time to join Pakistani teams in a series of friendly matches.

Like many other sports in Afghanistan, football has regained a popularity which was dampened during the five years of Taleban rule.

It is a sport which has thrived among women, alongside other games including boxing and tae-kwondo.

But now the game is being played with enthusiasm all over the country.

"When I was a child I always wanted to be a good football player," the 18-year-old captain of the team, Shamila Khostani, told the BBC's World Today programme.

We don't care if we lose or win, but we try.
Team captain Shamila Khostani

"But, unfortunately under the period of the Taleban I couldn't play football or any sport... when the Taleban went I found the opportunity and started playing soccer."

"We wanted to show that girls can also play football like boys," she said.

Conservative society

Team member, Palwasha Daud, also played football as a child growing up in Pakistan.

"When I returned home to Afghanistan," she told the BBC, "I played football during school sports classes."

"After that, when football teams were created, I wanted to register."

Later still, she was introduced to the country's Olympic Committee and chosen for the national team.

Afghan women boxers

Twenty players are travelling, along with two female coaches and the male chief coach, Abdul Saboor Walizadah.

Although there are now 500 registered women players across Afghanistan, the game has had to develop in a cautious way given the conservative society here.

Coach Abdul Saboor Walizadah says: "At the beginning we had lots of problems. Most families didn't want their daughters to play football."

"We kept being in contact with the parents to try to convince them there was nothing wrong with it."

Now, says the coach, all these players' families are quite comfortable with what their daughters are doing.

The only problem the Afghan women's team has is that it lacks a suitable venue for regular football training.

A Pakistani Football Federation spokesman has said these matches will be great for the relationship between the two countries.

The teams will be taking part in a friendly tournament in Islamabad, involving 15 Pakistani teams and lasting a week.

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