Lionel Messi is the God of soccer. Long-standing records have been falling like domino pieces since he started his professional career. Last year alone he scored 91 goals, more than any other player in the history of the sport, a record that had not been broken in 40 years. Last month he scored in his 17th consecutive La Liga match, another record that had been standing intact since the 1930s. This year he was awarded the fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or, breaking the prestigious record he was sharing with Michel Platini, and crowning him as one of the best soccer players - if not THE best - in the history of the game. Despite his obbligational engegement with the Barcelona Football Club, Messi never turns down a commitment with the Argentina national team, whose players and coaches have only positive words about his work ethic, and advocated for his role as the captain of the team.
Lionel Messi is not just a champion in soccer; he's a true hero off the field as well. In 2007 he founded the Leo Messi Foundation, a charity organization working with children and adolescents who are in risky situations, and providing them with a better opportunity of life. He has also been a UNICEF ambassador since March 2010, actively fighting for children's rights around the world. In Messi's own words: "One day, after a visit to a hospital, I realized the special dimension of a public figure. I understood that to these sick children the presence of a known player can be very helpful. You are there and they smile and for them is a special joy because they are most eager to keep fighting, because they really believe they will outgrow the disease and to pursue their dreams."
I've always been a fan of Pele, and considered him to be the best soccer player who ever lived. Maradona and Platini are up there, too. However, what Lionel Messi has already accomplished in his career is astounding. And he's only 26 years old. Lionel is a true role model for millions of children around the world, not only soccer players, but also anybody interested in sports. Coutless fans continue wear his jersey, and countless soccer players - from all over the planet - wish they could perform the way he does. Even in Afghanistan.
Soccer is the national sport in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan national soccer team can't be compared to other nations in the world in terms of results achieved on the filed, but they work as hard as anybody else. During the Taliban regime, sports were forbidden, but since the radical movement lost its grip on the country, this team started to flourish. It's true that they have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup, the Olympic Games, or even the Asian Cup, and that the only european teams they have officially faced have been just Luxembourg and Monaco. The war in Afghanistan has also made it very challenging for the national federation to develop a sound system that could provide more accessibility to this sport. However, the situation is changing quickly. In March 2013 they reached 141st in the FIFA World Rankings, their best position ever. In addition, the national team reached the final at the South Asian Football Federation Championship 2011, which was the best result in an international competition ever recorded by Afghanistan soccer.
Esteqlal Football Club is the second team in the Football Premier League in Kabul. They play in the same place the national team does, the Ghazi National Olympic Stadium. 10% of its shares is currently owned by Film Annex, an company that offers its website as a platform for independent film makers to showcase their work worldwide. Film Annex is hoping to give the team additional motivation and logistics to emerge as the leader in the capital. Esteqlal FC is currently carrying the company's logo on their uniforms. Film Annex also believes in the integrity and genuineness of the sports in Afghanistan, where athletes are not involved in doping scandals, and the moral principle of honest competition is still alive. Investing in this team means investing in the authenticity of the young generation of Afghan boys, as well as Afghan girls.
The achievements of Esteqlal Football Club and the Afghanistan national team are modest, but their work ethic is rock-solid. Players like Lionel Messi can motivate these athletes to further improve their skills, and can provide further inspiration for the work they do off the soccer field. The indirect encouragement of athletes like Messi united with the direct support of foreign companies like Film Annex can help this region become a true contender. With the improvement of the economy of Afghanistan, higher results will be achieved also on the soccer field, contributing to a multi-level progress of the future of Afghanistan.
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