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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 22:45 GMT 23:45 UK
Afghan football fugitives caught
Missing Afghan footballers
Italian police have handed over the players' pictures to Interpol
Four members of the Afghan national football team have still to be found four days after failing to show up for a match in the Italian city of Verona.

Five other players who disappeared along with them have been arrested trying to reach Germany in a bid for asylum, coach Ali Asger told the BBC.

The men left their passports with their coach in Verona when they vanished.

Afghan sports officials have described their behaviour, during a tour to raise money for charity, as disgusting.

Sporting defectors
November 2003 - Group of Moldovans reach Canada by posing as the national women's underwater hockey team
August 2003 - 12 members of Sierra Leone's Under-17 national football team go missing in Finland
August 2003 - Three Cuban gymnasts defect at the World Gymnastics Championships in the US
January 2002 - Six members of the Cuban volleyball team disappear while playing in Belgium
August 2001 - 106 participants from all over Africa seek asylum during Canada's Francophone games

On Monday, after their day off and a visit to a disco, the nine players failed to return to their camp near Verona.

Their coach managed to pull in reserves from Germany and the UK to play a charity match, which the Afghans lost.

When the remaining members of the team boarded their return flight to Kabul there was still no sign of them.

At least one of the five arrested was caught by police on the Swiss border on a train bound for Germany.

Important tour

The BBC's Frances Kennedy reports from Italy that it is widely believed the missing players are also heading for Germany, which has a large Afghan community.

The visit to Italy marked the Afghan team's first appearance in Europe for 20 years.

Football was banned in Afghanistan after the Taleban regime came to power in 1996.

"It's 20 years since our national side last played in Europe and our people need football to give them hope," Ali Asger said this week.

Proceeds from the team's visit were due to go towards construction of medical centres in the Afghan capital Kabul.

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