Samy Called To Represent War-Torn Afghanistan

San Jose, Calif. On a field where public executions took place and President George W. Bush landed in a helicopter on a surprise visit, the Afghanistan National Soccer team will try to bring together a country torn apart by war and violence by giving them something to cheer for. Joining the effort to unite the people of Afghanistan is San Jose State’s Yousef Samy. Samy was a two-year member of the Spartan soccer team until he got the call this September to represent his country on the international level.

Soccer is a unifying force in war-torn Afghanistan, but playing has not always been easy. Under the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, players and spectators were both subjected to threats and violence. Players were not allowed to wear shorts or short sleeves and fans were often forced to pray during halftime. When games were played in Ghazi Olympic Stadium in the nation’s capital of Kabul, they were often preceded by public executions or amputations.

The Afghanistan Football Federation has tried to put together national teams since the fall of the Taliban regime, but the task has been plagued by fear. Afghani soccer returned to international play in 2004 for the first time since 1984 with a game in Verona, Italy. The return to Europe was marred by nine players who absconded from their hotel rooms and were found days later in surrounding countries, claiming asylum. The incident was seen as an embarrassment to the country and the team was disbanded.

The Afghanistan team returns in 2007 with a strong mix of players from the U.S., Germany and Australia. Samy is among three players chosen from the United States. All three members are from California and have been playing together for years in Afghani soccer tournaments held all over the United States.

“The Afghan community is really big and really small at the same time,” explained Samy. The junior was born in Berkeley, Calif., but holds dual-citizenship because both his parents were both born in Afghanistan. Samy has been involved in soccer since he was eight years old and has never played any other sport. The midfielder learned the sport from his father, Rahmat.

Samy’s choice to play for the Afghanistan National team not only stems from his desire to represent the country, but the desire of a young man to follow in his father’s footsteps. Rahmat played for the Afghanistan national team in the 1970s, when the country was known has a soccer powerhouse in Asia. When Rahmat emigrated to the U.S. he brought his soccer traditions with him.

“When he came from Afghanistan, he and his friends played in local teams,” said Samy. “When I was a kid I would go out there and help them and play with them. That’s how I started playing.”

When the Afghanistan Football Federation began scouting for a team to compete in the 2007 World Cup qualifiers, they searched far and wide. Samy was sought out by the committee based on the recommendations they received from members of the Afghani community.

“This is an honor to me,” said Samy. “I get to play for my country and for the same team my father played on when he was my age. It takes years to build a national team to the level of competition that we’re going to be facing. I know we’re not going to be the best team, we might even lose really bad. I’m not going into this thinking that we’re going to win the World Cup, but I hope this is going to be the beginning of something that will help create youth programs and get them to play at a more competitive level.”

San Jose State men’s soccer head coach Gary St. Clair knows where his player is coming from and the challenges he is going to face. St. Clair was named to the U.S. 1976 men’s soccer Olympic team.

“When I played on the national team soccer was in its infancy here,” said St. Clair. “We were doing something brand new. There was no history and there was no heritage of soccer in the U.S., certainly not at that level. We were feeling our way around and I have a feeling that Afghanistan is pretty much in the same position. In some respect I was a pioneer and I think Yousef is a pioneer with what he’s doing.”

Afghanistan will make its return to international play on October 8, in Aleppo, Syria, when they take on Syria in World Cup qualification. The team will play Syria again on October 26, in Dushanbe, Tajikstan.