Dirt pitches, low wages but Afghans dream of soccer glory

Fri Jul 9, 2010 7:01am EDT
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By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters Life!) - The glitz of Sunday's World Cup final in South Africa will be a distant vision for millions of fanatical Afghan fans who will be glued to television screens dreaming of their country one day walking on soccer's big stage.

Although the game is immensely popular in Afghanistan, decades of conflict and a lack of development resources have left the country languishing in 189th place out of 202 in rankings administered by soccer's world governing body FIFA.

"The government pays very little attention to football and to its players. We don't have regular training," Mohammad Yaseen Mohammadi, deputy head of Afghanistan's national team, told Reuters.

"We have a long way to go before performing like other international teams in the world," he added.

Soccer is not alone of course. All sports have taken a back seat as Afghanistan struggles to overcome a worsening Taliban insurgency and the legacy of years of civil war which destroyed much of the country's sporting infrastructure.

Only Buzkashi has thrived, the violent polo-like national game in which players mounted on horses compete to get the carcass of a headless goat or calf over a goal line.

The Afghan national soccer team was founded in 1922 and joined FIFA in 1948. They play home games at the Ghazi National Olympic Stadium in Kabul, which was built by King Amanullah Khan in 1923 and holds 25,000 fans.

The ground has a bloody history. The Taliban used to execute condemned criminals or amputate the limbs of thieves at the stadium during their rule.   Continued...