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West African football coach dreams big in Kyrgyzstan
Under the watchful eye of Daniel Tagoe, a coach from Ghana, around 30 children wearing blue and yellow kits learn to play football in a village outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.
One of several West African players living in Kyrgyzstan, 37-year-old Tagoe says he dreams of developing a football culture in the poor Central Asian country.
"My dream is to have them play in English premiership, in Spain, in Russia," Tagoe told AFP in English, referring to the young players.
It is an ambitious task in a country not known to be a major football nation.
Mixed martial arts and wrestling are among favourite sports in Kyrgyzstan, and much of the country still lacks adequate sporting facilities.
Tagoe arrived in Kyrgyzstan from Russia when he was in his early 20s and played for the mountainous country's national side for years.
After a successful career which saw him win the Kyrgyzstan Player of the Year award in 2009, the Ghanaian opened a football school in the village of Leninskoye outside Bishkek.
"I have my house here. My wife lives here," he said, adding that a lot of parents asked him to teach their children.
"When I finished my career, I decided, why not teach them?" said Tagoe, a fluent Russian speaker.
Children say they are happy to learn football skills from him.
"I am glad that Tagoe came and opened his club," said eight-year-old Daniil Mukhamedaliev.
He said he lived far away from Leninskoye and had to walk through the fields to attend his classes.
"He's a good coach."
'My son is pleased'
Around 80 aspiring football players aged between 6 and 18 have signed up, and regularly come to play at the new pitch.
It is located next to a primary school still bearing the name of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin and featuring a map of the USSR on a wall.
Nearby, horses graze in a field where locals played before Tagoe's arrival and abandoned football goalposts have no net.
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"We've never had anything like this before," Arzu Jafarova said, smiling.
"My son just sat at home," the 38-year-old added.
"Now we are pleased and my child is pleased."
Another parent, Zamir Jooshev, is equally enthused.
"Not all villages have such an opportunity," said Jooshev, whose son and daughter are learning to play.
He said it was also rare to have a former Kyrgyzstan national team player train local children.
Along with another Ghanaian, David Tetteh, Tagoe is one of several Africans to have played for the Kyrgyzstan national side.
Their contribution to the country's football successes is indisputable.
In the 2010s, Kyrgyzstan was among the worst football teams. With the help of foreign players including the West Africans the country has moved up in the FIFA rankings, reaching its highest-ever place of 75 in 2018.
The national team has also qualified twice for the Asian Cup.
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Tagoe briefly lived in Russia, but was later convinced to play for the Dordoi Bishkek football club in Kyrgyzstan.
His success encouraged others to try their luck in Central Asia.
"Everybody wants to play in Dordoi, especially the Ghanaian football players," said Tetteh.
"Dordoi is my everything, it's my heart," said the 37-year-old, who scored a record 123 goals for Dordoi and was later promoted to coach.
Another Ghanaian, striker Joel Kojo, has played in Kyrgyzstan since 2017 and now represents the country internationally.
He played for Kyrgyzstan in the CAFA Nations Cup in mid-June.
Tagoe and Tetteh have shot to fame in Kyrgyzstan, and their framed jerseys adorn the walls of a building housing Dordoi.
"David Tetteh and Daniel Tagoe are among the first foreign players to come to Kyrgyzstan," Ruslan Sydykov, general director for Dordoi, told AFP.
"In my opinion, they are the best African footballers to have played here."
Back in Leninskoye, Tagoe said he wanted to help raise a new generation of professional footballers in the country.
"My dream will come true," he said.