Afghanistan women’s national team returns to the pitch

Former captain Khalida Popal encouraged the team after the evacuation from Afghanistan. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

The Afghanistan women’s national soccer team made a triumphant return to the pitch Sunday, eight months after the Taliban seized control of their country and forced players to evacuate.

On a field outside of Melbourne, Australia, the team played to a scoreless draw against ETA Buffalo in the first game of Victoria’s 2022 State League 4 season.

“It feels so good. We played again as a team. Together,” one player, whose name was withheld for safety, told ESPN. “That’s the best part, that we have each other and we’re again together. That’s a good thing for all of us.”

The national team, joined by a group of 75 people, was evacuated to Australia with the help of that country’s government in August 2021 after the Taliban took control of their homeland.

Under Taliban rule, women playing sports is seen as a political act of defiance, putting the team in danger of persecution.

Now, playing under the name Melbourne Victory FC AWT, the Afghanistan women’s national team enjoys the full operational support of the Melbourne Victory A-League club.

“To see them play with such heart, commitment and endeavour was just beautiful, it really was,” Melbourne Victory director of football John Didulica told ESPN.

Moving forward, the Afghan players aim to present a case to FIFA to continue to be recognized as representatives of Afghanistan so they can represent the country internationally.