KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Bullets whizzed through the air in the Afghan capital Wednesday night, this time in celebration rather than anger: Afghanistan had just won its first international trophy in soccer.
The Afghans beat India 2-0 in the South Asian Football Federation Championship, a tough match whose result brought a rare moment of unity to this ethnically fractious, war-weary nation, which the U.S. invaded in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks 12 years ago.
In Kabul, young and old cheered, clapped and laughed as their team seized the win in Kathmandu, Nepal. Car 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."
The Afghans, who were a founding member of the Asian Football Confederation in 1954, have a long soccer history but only recently re-emerged on the world scene after decades of war and insurgency.
When the Taliban ruled the country from 1996-2001, they severely restricted sports, and soccer stadiums were used to stage executions of those who ran afoul of the Islamist movement's harsh laws. After the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001, sports here were reborn.
Although Afghanistan has never played at the World Cup, or even at the Asian Cup, the country has been getting better in recent years, rising up the FIFA rankings to No. 139.
On Wednesday, Mustafa Azadzoi put Afghanistan ahead early in the first half at Dashrath Stadium, and Sanjar Ahmadi doubled the lead in the second. When it was over, the players danced around the field with Afghan flags draped on their shoulders.
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