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Afghanistan hosts first intl soccer match in 10 yrs

Updated: 2013-08-21 09:23

KABUL - With the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan often marked by diplomatic fouls and offsides, it took a soccer match in Kabul to bring the neighbours together on Tuesday.

Billed as an indication of the country's gradual return to normality after decades of war and violence, the 6,000-seater stadium was sold out and the jubilant crowd cheered at every pass, erupting into a frenzy when game ended 3-0 to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan hosts first intl soccer match in 10 yrs

Pakistan's goalkeeper Saqib Hanif (L) jumps to make a save during a friendly soccer match against Afghanistan in Kabul, Aug 20, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

The FIFA-sanctioned friendly was played at the Afghan Football Federation's stadium, where on Thursday the second season of the Afghan Premier League will kick off.

It was the first ever international soccer match held by Afghanistan in 10 years. The last time the Pakistani national team played in Afghanistan was in 1977. Given the background of strained, sometimes violent, relations, the game was heavy with diplomatic significance, although that seemed to matter little to the Afghan crowd.

"I hope to come to many more international games here," said Haroon Shirzad, a 21-year-old student who was shirtless and painted from the waist to his hairline in the colours of the Afghan flag.

Youths such as Shirzad sat alongside men with long, grey beards in the buoyed up crowd. There did not appear to be any women in the stands outside the VIP and media areas.

And though the mood was overwhelmingly positive and convivial, the match was a brief bright moment in an otherwise troubled and often bloody relationship.

As NATO-led forces work towards ending their combat role in the war, there are concerns that Pakistan, despite being a US ally, is again stepping up its support of the Taliban to try to counter the influence of arch-rival India, which it believes supports anti-Pakistan elements in the country.

Afghanistan hosts first intl soccer match in 10 yrs

An Afghan spectator, with his face painted with the colours of Afghanistan's national flag, watches a friendly soccer match between Afghanistan and Pakistan in Kabul, Aug 20, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

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