Afghanistan, the country that has been battling terror and militant insurgency to the highest extent, now has a reason to smile and brag at new gem in its sporting crown: The South Asian Football Federation’s (SAFF) Champions title.
The Afghanistan national football team, aptly named the Lions of Khorasan, beat defending champions India in the SAFF Championship final by a brace of goals to bring home the championship crown. Mustafa Azadzoy scored as early as the ninth minute and Sanjdar Ahmadi added a second later on as the Lions romped home to victory.
What is even more ironical is that they did it on the occasion of September 11, 12 years after the ghastly terror raid on the twin trade towers of America, a month after which the United States invaded their nation. The Afghan capital of Kabul erupted in joy as guns fired into the melancholy of the night in jubilation rather than terror, as Afghanistan secured their maiden international football accolade.
Though the gunfire raised safety concerns, especially after the prolonged exercise of bullets, the youth and aged joined the celebration on the streets as Afghan flags waved about, horns blared and gleeful citizens cheered on their footballing heroes throughout the night.
"I am extremely happy, and I am very proud," elucidated a citizen Waheedullah to Associated Press. "How I can explain my feelings? My friends and I were just praying, praying to be champions. It's one of the happiest days of my life."
"I'm proud of my whole country. I congratulate my dear countrymen," roared Afghanistan goalkeeper Mansur Faqiryar, who was named the man of the match for his top performances in the final.
It is interesting to note here that it was Afghanistan who were among the founding members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 1954 and although militant extremism and insurgency ran afoul and temporarily banned sports according to sharia law, the country is re-emerging on the world football front.
Afghanistan is ranked 139 in the world, even though they haven’t won let alone competed in the Asian Cup or even the World Cup for that matter, though their recent performances have been on the rise.
“The youth of Afghanistan showed that our nation, our people have the ability to make progress and succeed,” expounded an emotionally tackled President, Hamid Kazai, of the war torn nation. It is even reported that the Afghan secret service sent out gratulatory notes to the team although it intervened in the continuous firing of guns in the capital.
Afghanistan formed its football federation in 1922, ninety years ago and was welcomed into the FIFA fold in 1948. Football was a widely watched sports in the two decades succeeding the fifties, yet after Soviet occupation in 1979 and a civil strife in 1992-96 nearly evaporated the football interest amongst its natives.
Yet fighting all odds, in their second final, the Lions of Khorasan can purr with pride at their stupendous achievement, especially in the face of such adversity.
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