As Haroon Fakhruddin’s wayward pass/cross scraped through the entire Indian midfield to land on the right foot of Belal Arezou in the 9th minute, there was a moment of hope that something was possibly about to happen.
And it happened. Afghanistan under the patient guidance of Mohammad Yousef Kargar, a man who traces his background to being a one-time national ski champion, on Wednesday, won its first ever title beating six-time champions – India by two goals in the 2013 SAFF Championships in Nepal.
We have all heard of minnows beating top teams and causing major upsets. Afghanistan beating India isn’t different from those except for the very reason that the impoverished country had been and still is at war. Against the Soviets back in 1970’s to their present struggle to rid the land of extremism, Afghans have had to deal with the bare minimum and to achieve such a feat (though at a regional level) will provide a much needed moral boost.
The Afghans comprising of players from various tribal backgrounds including Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Aimaks among the few, did not participate internationally between 1984 and 2002. And in their first international outing in the same cup in 2003, they had lost all three games. Since then (2003), out of mere 70 games played, they had won 17 with majority of them via teams of similar caliber. However as the Afghan people learn to heal in time; the country’s footballng fortunes had turned around in a similar fashion. With a winning streak of 6 games inclusive of their most recent 3 – 0 victory over Pakistan in Kabul (the first international game to be played in Kabul in a decade), Afghanistan has managed to jump from 186th in FIFA rankings as early as January of this year to 139th in the latest rankings table.
AFF Secretary General Sayed Aghazada had once said “that after a very difficult period” Afghanistan “was returning to normality” going on to add “Afghan football has improved in terms of organization and infrastructure, and we now believe that football can play an even bigger role in our country.” So is the case as the country revels under the latest triumph and unites at the sound of celebratory gunfire.
For Afghan football fans, even the most positive among them, such celebrations is satisfying considering that their very means of entertainment for them (stadiums) were used by the regime as a venue for executions, mutilations, public whippings and executions.