Afghans Celebrate Long-Awaited Return Of Football To War-Torn Country
Afghanistan’s football team "sparked rowdy celebrations across the war-battered nation" Tuesday after securing a convincing 3-0 win over rival Pakistan "in the first international match in Kabul for 10 years," according to the AFP. A "delirious 6,000 capacity crowd" packed the Afghanistan Football Federation stadium for a game that "unleashed a wave of patriotic pride in a country beset for decades by war, poverty and Islamist extremism." The match "was promoted as a symbol of football’s ability to foster peace and unite countries in a shared love of sport," but the result was celebrated by many Afghans as "a sweet victory over an old and bitter adversity." Political ties "are badly strained" between Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, which "blame each other for bloody violence plaguing both countries." Just "a small number of women were in the stands, and there was no sign of Pakistani support" despite thousands of Pakistanis living and working in the Afghan capital. Security "was intense," with several rings of armed riot police and soldiers "beating back frustrated ticketless crowds locked outside of the stadium." One spectator, Ahmadzai Fazeli, 25, said that "insurgents at a Taliban roadblock in volatile Wardak province had wished the team well." Fazeli: "On the way here the Taliban stopped me. I told them I was going to the football match, and they happily let me pass" (AFP, 8/20).