'I was six years old when I saw Lionel Messi in a dream. We were teammates. Strikers. We collaborated to score goal after goal,' says 16-year-old Mohammed Tufail Khan Shinwari. Since he had the dream, Tufail has eaten, drank and slept football. He has lived football.

'I played football in the streets and on the roads, I played football on empty plots, on rugged and rocky grounds, in village fields, before school, after school,' recalls the lad whose hat-tricks in last month's Street Child Football World Cup in Doha, Qatar, has awakened a new spirit of the sport in the schools of not just Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) but the entire tribal belt. All have formed their own football teams now.

Although Tufail was playing a lot of football, he only got to the next level after getting noticed by a group of experts from a charity organisation called 'Muslim Hands', who spotted him during open trials in Nowshera. That's when he, along with nine other boys - namely, Abdullah, Abid, Imran, Junaid, Abdul Wahab, Asad, Suhail Khan, Adeel and Mohammed Ali - were selected out of over 500 young players from across the country for an Under-16 camp in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir, where the talented players underwent high quality training.

It was no regular camp. It went on for more than a year. 'It was during that training that I found expression to my talent alongside my other fellow athletes,' says Tufail, who wants to make a career of football now.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is gearing up to do something at the grassroots level for sports after gaining inspiration from one young footballer

'I want to set an example for other street children all over our country. They should know that deprived children like them, roaming the streets and being exposed to so many threats, can also have talent and that they can also get opportunities on the basis of that talent to help them reach where they want to in life,' he says.

Tufail Shinwari warms up before a match | Photos courtesy Muslim Hands

'I had a dream to become a world class player but I had never thought it would happen so soon for me, at such a young age,' smiles Tufail, who is now also concentrating on his education. He likes computer science and recently completed grade 12 on a scholarship from a private institution in Peshawar.

Tufail, who was playing as a striker for Pakistan in the Street Child Football World Cup, dazzled with a total of 13 goals in the tournament, with back-to-back hat-tricks against Bosnia and Qatar...

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