Teenager Mika Sayfurahman and team-mates represent new hope for Afghanistan
Sayfurahman made her international debut at the age of 13
Afghanistan recently faced 50th-ranked Jordan in two friendlies
Not many teenagers will tell you they don’t care about the result at the end of their football match. There has to be a winner and a loser, right?
For Mika Sayfurahman (wearing No13 pictured above), who turns 15 today, she has a perspective that even some adults lack. Don’t get it wrong, she wants to win every game she plays, but playing for the Afghanistan women’s national team has provided a wider view on the world and given her a great purpose.
“My goal is to inspire young girls to start playing soccer,” Sayfurahman told FIFA.com. “That’s my main goal.”
Mika is one of several examples of players that represent a new dawn and a hope for Afghan women wanting to make it as professional footballers.
She picked up the game as a four-year-old, passing the ball around with her father at her brothers’ soccer practices in California, where she grew up most of her life.
It was there in California where she was discovered by Afghanistan women’s national team assistant coach Haley Carter, at a tournament hosted by the close-knit Afghan community in the Bay Area. Just a few months later, she was on a plane to India on her way to represent Afghanistan at the South Asian Football Federation Championship.
“Mika stood out right away,” Carter told FIFA.com. “She’s a little bitty thing, but she’s fierce. She’s got a great attitude, she works really hard, she’s really coachable, she’s hilarious and has a great sense of humour. She’s a really good source of energy to have around.
“She’s actually one of the more mature players from a soccer IQ and professionalism stand-point. She’s serious about the game and passionate about her development.”
Sayfurahman embodies everything Afghanistan head coach Kelly Lindsey and her staff wants: skill, high technical ability, fitness, ability to play a physical game, ability to read the game, professionalism and passion for the game. “She’s young, but she set’s the example,” Carter said.
Sayfurahman and the Afghanistan women’s national team, originally formed in 2007, recently played Jordan, hosts of the upcoming 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup and a top-50 side, in a pair of friendlies in which they were on the end of two lopsided scorelines (5-0 and 6-0).
But don’t let the results take away from the bigger picture. In football, there’s always a story behind the headline, and in this case, Afghanistan learned a great deal from the experience.
“We didn’t just sit back and play defence,” Carter said. “We told the girls, ‘Go out and play.' You can sit and park the bus, but this isn’t a major tournament and it doesn’t do you any good to do that. That’s not how you’re going to get better.
“To go and compete against a team that’s ranked 50th, who I am confident will qualify for the World Cup, and come out with that scoreline is massive. It’s huge.”
For Carter, there are two tangible objectives for the future: moving up the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking and participating in the preliminary round for the next AFC Women’s Asian Cup cycle.
“We need to see a quantifiable jump in the FIFA Ranking in that it will help us drive fundraising efforts,” Carter said. “When we can quantify the progress that’s being made, that’s going to go a really long way.”
What gives Carter and Sayfurahman hope about the team in the next few years?
“The youth of this team and the interest and their passion to drive this programme forward, be a part of it and make the investment, is huge,” Carter said. “Secondly, the unity we have. We tell them, ‘You’re all Afghan. We’re all one team. We’re all fighting for the same things.’ We’re getting to a place now that players are reaching out to us because they want to participate.”
The players on the team take accountability and responsibility seriously and have created a leadership council and give the staff feedback. Momentum is building in many ways.
“We all treat each other like sisters,” Sayfurahman said. “We’re all really close to each other. I really love all of them. I think the future’s bright. We have a lot of talent.”