Afghanistan: Footballing nation fights low morale

Afghanistan’s football team has been starved of support for 12 years

In 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Afghan national football team won the AFC U23 Championship in Singapore, marking their first final. Since then, though, things have gone sour.

First came the civil war that broke out across the country in 2001, with a surge in suicide attacks and the high unemployment rate, forcing many players out of the game.

It was 2008 before the Afghan national team had its first major international tournament, when it qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup finals in Qatar. After the tournament, the Taliban issued a fatwa against the team.

This fatwa was not the only problem, however. Despite its enormous success at a tournament in Malaysia in 2005, the national team once again faced low morale from the players.

Khalida Popal, a former captain, explained the problems the team faced to the BBC World Service: “Because of the war, and the arrival of these foreign forces there, the players could hardly play even just for a match against a smaller country like Iran or Uzbekistan.

“They had to be sent home. It doesn’t matter if they lose, [that] the war is over, or the war is not over. That is what happens, and the morale of the players is low – that is just the perception.”

Popal joined forces with former manager Khalil Makanov, who brought youth development to the team and instilled a new generation of coaches, to create the Afghan Football Association, a non-governmental organisation that puts forward the country’s ideas for reform to the government, aiming to bring about greater resources for the country’s youth.

It will be seven years before Afghanistan – who currently sit at 112th in the world rankings – plays a competitive international. The current team, featuring talented players like Fatima Azizi and Faiza Daad, drew 2-2 away to Iraq last year in a rare outing.

At home, they have struggled in a series of friendly matches with Iraq, Iran and Malaysia, drawing all three to nil.

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