Joyous nation welcomes heroes

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Thousands of fans — including the president — on Thursday gathered to cheer Afghanistan’s victorious national football team as they returned home after winning the war-wracked country’s first international soccer trophy.

The team stunned six-time champions India 2-0 on Wednesday night to win the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) title in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu.
The victory was a rare moment of joy in Afghanistan, where US-led international forces and government troops have been fighting a 12-year war against a Taliban insurgency.
President Hamid Karzai heralded the team’s “historic victory” as he welcomed each player individually at Kabul international airport, where fans waved flags and blew horns.
Thousands more gathered at the national football stadium — once a venue for Taliban executions — shouting “Zindabad Afghanistan” (“Long Live Afghanistan”).
As the team lifted the trophy the stadium erupted with cheers and whistles.
Outside on the streets groups of men waved national flags, and danced.
Such celebrations were unheard of under the Taliban, which banned television, music and most sport and the victory provided a rare moment of unity in the ethnically divided nation.
Haroon Naeemi, 20, an ironsmith, had drawn the Afghan flag on his chest and said he hoped the world would now realise his country was not only about wars. “This is a big day for all of us, and we are excited. I have never been this happy before.
“Afghanistan, I love you!” he shouted.
Fans had packed restaurants, kebab shops and teahouses on Wednesday to cheer on the Afghan team, ranked 139th in the world, whose victory against the 145th-ranked Indians avenged a humiliating 4-0 defeat in the final two years ago.
Meanwhile, AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has hailed the historic victory of Afghanistan.
He also said that Afghanistan should now be considered serious title contenders for the AFC Challenge Cup to be played in Maldives next year. The winners of this competition will get an automatic spot in the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015.

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