Afghanistan beat Pakistan 3-0 in Kabul friendly

The BBC's Karen Allen says there was an electric atmosphere ahead of the match

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Afghanistan's footballers have triumphed 3-0 over Pakistan in a friendly match, the first international game played in Kabul in a decade.

The home side dominated the game from the kick-off, going three goals ahead mid-way through the second half to the delight of their rapturous supporters.

It was the first game between the two countries in Kabul for 30 years.

The match was billed as an indication of Afghanistan's return to normality after decades of war.

Hopes were high that it might also help ease political tensions.

At the scene

At temperatures of over 30°C, thousands of football fans were packing the ground next to Kabul's Ghazi stadium.

They cheered on their team who ran out in red kits adorned with an anti-polio logo.

Many fans had the Afghan flag painted on their faces. The crowd watched the match with discipline, with many saying that good relations between the two nations through sport was the most important thing.

Thousands gathered in restaurants and coffee shops in Kabul or watched the action on TV sets displayed in shop windows at electronic stores in the city. Shopkeepers, vendors, students, office workers all took time out to cheer their team on.

After Afghanistan's third goal, the TV commentator could not contain his excitement: "I wish I had wings and could fly over the pitch. I am proud that I am an Afghan," he said.

The outcome of the game - broadcast live - triggered a wave of post-match delirium in a country bedevilled by decades of war and poverty, sparking rowdy celebrations across the country.

However there were few Pakistani supporters or women fans of either team in the 6,000-capacity crowd at the recently-built Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) stadium.

Afghanistan took the lead in the "friendship match" through striker Sanjar Ahmadi in the 20th minute. Forward Harash Atefi doubled the score 12 minutes later, and midfielder Marouf Mahmoudi made it 3-0 in the 71st minute.

The BBC's Karen Allen in Kabul says the friendly was being seen as a deeply symbolic moment.

Afghan and Pakistani political leaders are due to meet for critical peace talks next week.

Many Afghans saw the match as a sweet victory over an old and bitter adversary.

"I am a huge football fan, and this match was so important for us," Shabir Ahmad, 27, a government employee at the match told AFP news agency.

"There are a lot of rivalries between Afghanistan and Pakistan, even if this match was meant to boost friendship."

Afghan fans at the AFF stadium The match was hailed as a symbol of football's ability to foster peace and unity between two countries with a shared love of sport, but the result was celebrated by many Afghans as a win over an old and bitter rival
'Friendship Match' between Afghanistan and Pakistan in Kabul Afghan striker Sanjar Ahmadi scored first with a shot which sent Pakistani goalkeeper Saqib Hanif the wrong way
Pakistani goalkeeper Saqib Hanif makes a save during the game Hanif was kept busy during the game, which was dominated by the home side
An Afghan football fan walks past fellow supporters queuing to watch their team play against Pakistan Security was tight, and in some cases tempers frayed as police struggled to control unruly fans desperate to get into the stadium
Afghan fans watch the game in a Kabul cafe The game was watched live on television by fans across the length and breadth of the country

AFF Secretary General Sayed Aghazada said that the match showed "that after a very difficult period" Afghanistan "was returning to normality".

"Afghan football has improved in terms of organisation and infrastructure, and we now believe that football can play an even bigger role in our country."

Pakistani officials also expressed optimism that the match would deepen the relationship between the two countries.

Football was not banned during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, but during their time in power they used the old Ghazi stadium in Kabul as a venue for executions, stonings and mutilations.

One spectator, Ahmadzai Fazeli, 25, told AFP that Taliban insurgents at a roadblock in volatile Wardak province had wished the team every success.

"On the way here the Taliban stopped me. I told them I was going to the football match, and they happily let me pass," he said. "Now I am here feeling very patriotic and happy."

Ranked 139th in the world, Afghanistan had last played at home in 2003 against Turkmenistan.

Pakistan's team is ranked 28 places below Afghanistan and has not played in Kabul since 1977.

Head coach Zavisa Milosavljev told AFP that his aim was to get international exposure for youth players and players "who don't play continually".

"Pakistan also has problems," he said. "We haven't played a single match in Pakistan."

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