KATHMANDU/KABUL: India’s bid to win a hat-trick of SAFF Football Championship titles went up in smoke on Wednesday as they lost 0-2 to Afghanistan in the final in Kathmandu.
The Afghans, who won their maiden SAFF trophy and first international football trophy of any kind, exacted a sweet revenge for their humiliating 0-4 loss against the same opponents in New Delhi two years back. The winners were helped by strikes from Mustafa Azadzoy (8th minute) and Sanjar Ahmadi (63rd minute).
For Afghanistan, it was a moment they had waited for two years having found the defeat in Delhi a hard to swallow. A fleet of Afghan Parliamentarians arrived in the afternoon to cheer their team and one of them even went onto the extent of announcing an apartment and USD 25,000 each for the whole squad if they happen to win the match.
Whether the announcement egged them is hard to know but they certainly played to their plan as they were able to keep the Indian team at bay despite a wave of attacks. Both the strikes came off counter-attacks and after each goal, the ‘Men In Red’ tightened their defence.
Just like their semi-final match, Afghanistan got the much-needed goal as early as the eighth minute when right wing back Mustafa Hadid beat opposition left-back Syed Rahim Nabi as he got a lot of open space down wide right to enter the penalty box and passed it on to Belal Arezo. Belal managed to hoodwink stopper back Arnab Mondal with a pass for Mustafa Azadzoy to slot it past Subrata Paul.
Bullets whizzed through the air in the Afghan capital Wednesday night, this time in celebration rather than anger after the national team beat India.
`In Kabul, young and old cheered, clapped and laughed as their team seized the win in Kathmandu, Nepal. Cars horns blared, and some Afghans waved national flags on the streets. The gunfire, meanwhile continued for about an hour after the win, raising safety concerns.”I am extremely happy, and I am very proud,” said Waheedullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name. “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.”
Afghans gathered in homes, restaurants, offices and even small markets to watch the game. President Hamid Karzai’s office tweeted a photo of him watching the players celebrate their win.
“The youth of Afghanistan showed that our nation, our people have the ability to make progress and succeed,” said a seemingly choked-up Karzai in a multilingual message posted on YouTube.
Even the Afghan intelligence service issued a statement congratulating the football champions. It also later issued a statement asking celebrants to stop firing guns.