“It was like winning the World Cup.”
That’s how Zohib Amiri described a cool evening in Kabul last Tuesday. The Afghan captain hadn’t just raised a shimering 18-carat gold trophy as his Spanish counterpart Iker Casillas had done 25 months previous. Afghanistan, a country ravaged by violence in recent times, had nevertheless hosted their first football match in almost a decade – and marked the occasion with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Pakistan.
“To see the happiness of our people in the past couple of days has been amazing,“ Amiri told FIFA.com afterwards. “I guess it was like winning the World Cup. It showed that our federation is doing a good job and we are moving the right direction.
“Afghan people love football, and for the past two to three years I have noticed that people have been getting even more excited since we have been playing regularly and showing that we are making real progress.
“It was by far the most important and exciting game of my life. We were not really nervous ahead of the match because we prepared ourselves during four to five months and were playing in front of our own crowd.“
The 6,000 inside the packed out AFF Stadium made for a tremendous atmosphere throughout what was a billed as ‘The Friendly Match’, and their vociferous support really impressed the Pakistan coach.
“I‘m really satisfied that I was part of this lovely event,“ said Zavisa Milosavljeviae. "And that I experienced this lovely crowd and Afghan people.“
FIFA World Cup™ dream
Amiri was only 16 when Afghanistan played their previous game, against Turkmenistan on 23 November 2003 in the Ghazi Stadium, and he wasn’t even born when they last hosted neighbours Pakistan in 1977.
“Football brings our people together,“ said the 26-year-old defender, who spent last season at FC Mumbai in India. “I could see it on Tuesday, before, during and after the game. The excitement and pride of our fans is something I will never forget.
“It has been a very long journey. Tuesday’s match was to a great extent the result of the positive development in Afghan football. The fact that we are today starting the second edition of the Afghan Premier League and we have a modern artificial pitch to host international matches is certainly very helpful and opens new perspectives for the future.”
The landmark friendly between Afghanistan and Pakistan was played at Kabul’s AFF Stadium on the FIFA Goal Project-funded artificial pitch. The same venue will host the second edition of the Afghan Premier League.
“We now need to focus on next year’s AFC Challenge Cup,“ said Amiri. “If we do well at a regional level, we will one day be able to achieve our dream of qualifying for the World Cup. This is the big dream of our entire nation.”