Months after putting up a spirited display in the cricket World Cup, Afghanistan’s national team left the football field as national heroes, despite losing to India in the South Asia Football Federation (SAFF) Championship final on January 3.
The two teams did not score any goals until the last minutes of the second half of normal time when Afghanistan took the lead only for India to level up instantly.
After extra time was announced, India scored a second goal and claimed the trophy of a tournament that saw its smaller conflict-torn neighbour beat Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka in a remarkable effort.
To encourage the team, Afghanistan’s President Ghani had spoken with them ahead of the final match.
The president then watched the final match live on television with a few members of his cabinet.
The former president Hamid Karzai also watched the match at home.
Other Afghan ministers, parliament members, singers and Afghans joined in supporting the national team.
Khalil Noori, a senior BBC producer based in Afghanistan, posted an image of Atta M. Noor, the governor of Balkh, watching the match in excitement.
Also present was Farzana Naz, a female Afghan singer, holding the Afghan flag and cheering for the Afghan team in the stadium with friends.
As the final match was being played out, female supporters took to the streets of Kabul to support the national team.
This wasn’t the first time Afghanistan had impressed at the biennial competition that has become South Asia’s most significant football tournament.
They ran out surprise winners of the 2013 version, when India was again the opposition, two years after being beaten by the same team 4-0.
Although, the team lost the final match this year, their impressive performance was more than a victory for Afghans, given the sporting wilderness they experienced during the Taliban era.—(Global Voice)