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Date posted: 11-05-2023 10:01:00
‘I am the happiest woman in the world’
text: Klaas-Jan Droppert
Sunday just before 4:30 p.m. The 88th minute of the match ADO-Excelsior Women is running, when a huge applause rolls from the stands. This is the moment that Ilham Abali has been waiting for since January 19, 2020 and that after many setbacks has finally arrived. The moment she feels like she’s finally a soccer player again.
“I had goose bumps on my arms and tears were already in my eyes during the warm-up,” says the protagonist, who broke in crying and was still emotional afterwards. “When I looked at my parents in the stands, I really couldn’t keep dry. I’ve had to wait so long for this moment. I really feel like the happiest woman in the world!”
Understandable, because she has had a long agony. At the beginning of 2020, Abali was seriously injured in an exhibition game against the German Bayer Leverkusen. The diagnosis was a torn cruciate ligament and a torn meniscus. “Normally it takes about nine months, but for me it took more than three years,” says the midfielder. “In the end I had to undergo four operations. Not because mistakes were made, but because a lot was broken in my right knee.”
Because Abali lives in Vlissingen, she had surgery in Belgium and the rehabilitation was in her own environment. She worked on her recovery far away from The Hague. “That was not always easy. Of course I was sometimes depressed. Especially when you have to undergo another operation. But I also learned a lot from it. For example, that every day that you are allowed to be on the field is a gift. That you enjoy it very much.”
Many would have thrown in the towel long ago and there were plenty who doubted she would ever be able to play a game again. But as a true Zeeland, she honors the motto of her province: ‘Luctor et Emergo’, I struggle and emerge. “What has always kept me going? That I knew it had to be possible. And the enormous support from my parents, for example. They said: ‘If you believe in it, we will help you with it’. That’s why I was very emotional when I watched them in the stands just before coming on.”
Discipline, that is the word that characterizes Abali. Before her injury, she used to take the train from Vlissingen to The Hague every day for training, a journey of one and a half hours. And in the latter part of her rehabilitation, she did it again. “Sitting in that position for so long may not have been good for my knee. Yes, I regularly put my leg on the bench in the train. Fortunately, I was never fined for that.”
The first step of her return has been taken, but many more will follow. Abali was credited with a great future for her horror injury. She was seen as the successor to Victoria Pelova, who left for Ajax in 2019 and now plays for Arsenal. The question is how good she can get. “I came in briefly now, but it is first important to get match fit and to make sure I’m there before the start of next season. And beyond that? I’m not looking that far yet. I’m still young and I can still achieve a lot .”
And Ilham Abali has already proven that if she believes in something, a lot is possible.