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Chasing goal of soccer stardom

By Wang Ru and Cui Jia  (China Daily)

10:13, August 12, 2011

The soccer field at Xinjiang Soong Ching Ling Football School is the principal training ground for 120 teenage boys in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, August 3, 2011. In October, the school moves to a new campus with three fields. (Zhang Tao / China Daily)

Teenagers relish opportunity to play the game they love in Xinjiang, Wang Ru and Cui Jia report from Urumqi.

Seeing an approaching sandstorm in the sky, 16-year-old Hirali had to stop his afternoon training routine and unwillingly leave the field, juggling a ball between his feet.

Hirali was born to a rural family in Kashgar, in western Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. His enthusiasm for soccer began in preschool days when he herded sheep for his family. But he didn't get a football until his sister in college gave him one for his ninth birthday.

"I never saw a football before that day. I was so excited and held it when I was sleeping," Hirali said with a shy smile. "Before then, my 'football' was a shoebox stuffed with grass, but I played with it happily anyway."

In downtown Urumqi, the region's capital, 120 boys from 13 to 19 are chasing their soccer dreams in a school funded by the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation.

"There is a video clip on the Internet of my goal. You should watch it," said Hirali, who uses just one name. It was in July 2010 in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, when Hirali played on the under-15 China team against the hosts in the first match of the Kazakhstan President's Cup.

Like a roaring jet, Hirali suddenly sped up and broke loose from the defense of three guards. He stopped the ball from a long pass, dribbled in the penalty area and smartly kicked a lob over the goalkeeper's head. Goal!

"Some Chinese people, perhaps businessmen in Astana, were waving the national flag and celebrating my goal," Hirali said. "I felt so great at that moment."

Hirali has been selected for China's under-17 national team to compete, starting in November, for a qualifier out of Asia for the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup Final in the United Arab Emirates.

'How to explain . . .'

As Hirali reminisced about his goal, Yilamu, 60, president of Xinjiang Soong Ching Ling Football School, let out a long sigh. The local government, citing security concerns, had just called off the international tournament in Urumqi that he had been preparing for since last year.

Yilamu, who also is deputy chairman of Xinjiang's soccer association, said the cause is believed to be bloody attacks last month in Hotan, a city in the southern part of Xinjiang, and Kashgar.

As it was scheduled, Urumqi was to have hosted the Central-Asia International Football Tournament over nine days starting Saturday. Five teams from central Asia and Russia, along with two teams from Xinjiang and four professional clubs from other provinces, were planning to participate.

"Everything is ready. The Russian team had bought flight tickets. I don't know how to explain it to them now," Yilamu said.

"We also planned to invite children from different rural areas of Xinjiang to watch the tournament for free. They are passionate soccer lovers from poor families," Yilamu said. "I can feel how disappointed they are."

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