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North African youth chase football dreams


TUNIS: From a Tunisian teen seeking a career in women's football abroad to a Moroccan eyeing the national team, the beautiful game offers opportunity and hope to youth across the Middle East and North Africa.

In a video project looking into young people's aspirations in the region, where more than half of the population is under 30, AFP speaks to athletes about what football offers them as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar nears kick-off.

The first part of the series focused on artists in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza Strip, Israel and Iraq.

For 17-year-old Tunisian Eya Mejri, a football career is her only goal.

"My life today is training. I left school because I wanted to focus on football," she says after a session with her club in the capital Tunis. Her long hair tied back and sporting Neymar socks, Mejri hones her skills on the field with her all-girls team -- or in the street with the boys in her working-class neighbourhood.

She says she always knew what she wanted to do with her life, but hopes for a career away from home.

"There's no future in football in Tunisia," she says, adding that country is "at a standstill".

In five years' time, Mejri wants to be playing with French club Olympique Lyonnais -- and to have her family with her.

She will be rooting for Tunisia during the World Cup, but her focus remains firmly on her own career.

"I'm making more sacrifices to make my dream a reality," she says. "I hope I can go back to school soon."

On a beach under the clear blue Algerian sky, Abdelmadjid Kourtel dribbles a football along the sand, weaving through coloured markers as the waves roll in.

"In the mornings I go to train... in the afternoons, I come back home and see my friends," he says.

"My daily life is cool."

The 21-year-old striker plays for second-league team Olympique de Medea, based southwest of the capital Algiers.

He too has set his sights set on a career overseas.

"If you work hard and stay serious, it's possible to have a future as a footballer in Algeria. But apart from that, if you can go abroad, it's much better," Kourtel says.

In Algeria if you are injured, "there are some teams that take care of you, but in general you're on your own", he says. "In Europe, they look after you."

Within five years, he aims to be on the national team, who he was disappointed failed to qualify for Qatar 2022.

"You have to work. Everything comes through work and hard training," Kourtel says. "The rest is down to God."

At 20, Moroccan Mahmoud El Kayssoumi has already made his debut with a top-flight team and is hoping for a bright future in football.

"It's very difficult to get to the level of Lionel Messi, but I am very ambitious," says the striker, who has signed with Union Sportive de Tanger.

"Why not get to such a level that can make the people of my city and my family proud -- make all those people who support us happy?"

Wearing his Tangier team's blue strips, he practises his skills at a stadium southwest of the Mediterranean city.

"Moroccan football has evolved a lot," he says, pointing to the national team's qualification for the World Cup in Qatar.

"The women's team has made us all proud too," he adds, noting they came runner-up in this year's Women's Africa Cup of Nations, which Morocco hosted.

Anxious to prove himself, Kayssoumi says he would like to move to a bigger team in Europe, but his long-term goal is closer to home. "There are opportunities in Morocco," he says.

"I would like... to be selected for the Moroccan team to serve my country." -- AFP

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