Afghanistan hosts friendly after 10-year absence
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP)
Afghanistan hosted its first football international in 10 years on Tuesday, with its national team beating Pakistan 3-0 in front of a sellout crowd of 6,000 people in Kabul.
Labeled the ''Friendship Match,'' Afghanistan took the lead at the newly built Afghanistan Football Federation stadium through striker Sanjar Ahmadi in the 20th minute. Forward Harash Atefi doubled the advantage 12 minutes later, and midfielder Marouf Mohammadi made it 3-0 in the 71st.
Security was heavy before and during the match, with heavily armed Afghan police and army soldiers creating a cordon around the stadium. A number of women attended the match in a separate section, a rare sight in conservative Afghanistan.
The international was the first between the two countries in Afghanistan in 36 years, and the first staged in the nation since the Afghans beat Turkmenistan 1-0 in 2003. Football has been making a comeback in Afghanistan, with the inaugural season of the Roshan Afghan Premier League being staged last year.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, a vice president of FIFA, congratulated the Afghan side.
''A historic day for Afghan football. Congrats to Afghanistan on hosting their first international match in over a decade and winning it!'' He tweeted.
Afghanistan is ranked No. 139 and Pakistan No. 167 with FIFA. The two teams have faced off twice since 1977 outside of Afghanistan. They have won one game each.
''The aim of this match is not winning or losing of the game,'' Afghan head coach Mohammad Yasouf Kargar said. ''The main goal is to create better relations between nations in both countries.''
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated in recent years with both trading allegations of harboring insurgents in each other's territory. Afghanistan claimed that Pakistan has aided Taliban militants in the nearly 12-year Afghan war.
Afghanistan Football Federation chairman Karamudeen Karim said the match ''will open the door for other countries to visit Afghanistan and to play this fantastic game. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Friendship match will also give positive signals of normalcy in Afghanistan.''
The AFF was first founded in 1922 and admitted to FIFA in 1948. It was suspended in the 1990's during the civil war and ensuing Taliban rule.
Fans flocked from all over Afghanistan to try and attend the match, including Shafiqullah, who came from volatile southern Kandahar province. Because his flight was delayed, he couldn't find a ticket, which cost between 100 and 300 Afghanis ($2 and $5).
''I came to Kabul all the way from Kandahar to watch this match and did not manage it. I am very sad,'' said Shafiqullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name.