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A soccer team gives hope to refugees in Italy

The émigrés, many of whom fled persecution in their own lands, form the country’s first professional team made up entirely of refugees.

At home on a field: An Afghan man carts off balls after a practice with other team members of Liberi Nantes, an all-refugee soccer team in Italy that includes players from Eritrea, Guinea, Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, and Togo.

Liana Miuccio

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Karim, an Afghan with a powerful kick, passes the soccer ball to Mamadi, who is streaking up the sidelines. Mamadi, from Guinea, dribbles left and then deftly lunges toward the goal, where his Iraqi teammate, Akar, shadows him, waiting for a pass. Awote, a talented midfielder from Sudan, races up from behind. Mamadi feints left. He boots the ball – and scores.

This game, underway on an ashy patch of earth on the edge of Rome, sounds like it could be part of a United Nations soccer league. But it is actually being played by a single team – the Liberi Nantes Football Club, Italy’s first professional soccer team made up entirely of refugees.

To get here, many of these players braved harrowing journeys. Most fled persecution in their homelands. All have escaped either prison, war, or poverty.

Mamadi, Akar, and Karim are not their real names. These players will never end up with their pictures on trading cards. Authorities in their countries believe they are dead – and if they knew the truth, it would put their families at home in danger.

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