The Best 90 Minutes I’ve Ever Played

Finally, it was game day.

I left in search for the young boys whom I agreed to play a game of pick-up futbol with. My heart quickly sank into my stomach when I only saw one boy standing readily with a soccer ball cradled between his hands. I returned his smile with every attempt to conceal my disappointment about the lack of turnout.

“Futbol?” He asked inquisitively, double checking to make sure I remembered.

“Dah,” I nodded my head, gesturing for him to lead the way.

We continued on an incredibly long and lonely dirt road for what felt like hours. Tornados of dirt spiraled through the air as dogs barked protectively through their fences. With each hurdle over littered bottles and broken glass I could not help but feel more and more uncertain. Eventually we paused at a small, rusty playground.

“Are we here?” I asked rather confused.

“No,” he quickly responded.

In a matter of seconds, boys ran towards us from every direction carrying cleats and soccer balls.

“Ok, let’s go!” I laughed in disbelief.

“Let’s go!” They giggled practicing their English.

As we navigated through dirt roads, boys continued to join our train with smiles stretched from ear to ear. What started as only two was now a parade of 20— and growing.

After a few more minutes of walking we stumbled across an enclosed field in desperate need of some maintenance.

From the looks of it, the field was pieced together with rubber, cement, and glue…

Rather than tracing the field with white lines, the turf had been cut creating uneven levels of artificial grass and concrete. No longer held together by thread, the nets strung across the goal like a damp towel.

“School,” proudly said one of the boys who was sporting a yellow polo.

We split the teams in even numbers, organized positions, and blew an invisible whistle to begin the game.

“I”m Iniesta!” Screamed a cheeky midfielder.

“I’m Ramos!” Boasted the defender who completed a chip pass.

“And you must be Messi,” I joked to the boy who tripped over his shoelaces and kicked the ball out of bounds.

I could feel all eyes intently studying every touch I made. If I did a heel pass, suddenly they all tried heel passes. If I did the scissors, then they all were doing scissors. When I would do a quick one touch pass, next thing you know, we were all doing quick one touch passes.

As the rumor spread of our pickup game, more people started showing up. Soon, we had a rotation of three teams and a small fan section cheering through the fence. “Ooh’s” and “ahhh’s” followed with every trick while some cupped their cheeks in amazement.

The sky was painted a soft orange and pink when I said my goodbyes. I was provided with a volunteer escort to make sure I arrived back at my hotel safely.

(My volunteer escort. Note: this picture was taken with my phone.)

Our rematch is scheduled for September 4th, the first day I get back from Hungary. Hopefully playing in the Champions League will teach me one or two new moves to share with the boys.

#Kazakhstan #Shymkent #Alongtheway #Photojournalism #futbol #soccer

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© 2017 Kaelyn Korte-- all rights reserved

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