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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 13:57 GMT
Crowd trouble mars Kabul football match
Crowds surround the walls of the Afghan football stadium
Football fans tried to scale the stadium's walls
Afghan police fired shots into the air and set off smoke bombs in an attempt to control fans outside a football match between a Kabul team and international peacekeepers.

The kick-off to Friday's match was delayed by 30 minutes as ticketless fans tried to force their way in to the Kabul sports stadium, already filled with 25,000 spectators.

"We really want to see this match but there weren't enough places," a 17-year-old man, Faizal, told Reuters news agency.

Police used whips and pieces of barbed wire to try to keep the extra fans out.

International peacekeepers also used dogs to bring the crowd under control.

Before the match started, fans and players observed a minute's silence for minister Abdul Rahman, who was killed on Thursday by a mob of pilgrims furious at flight delays at Kabul airport.

Sporting isolation

The confrontation outside the ground contrasted with the friendly atmosphere within.

An Afghan player practicing
The Taleban banned football players from wearing a proper kit

The match, dubbed a Game of Unity, ended in a 3-1 victory to the international peacekeepers.

It was a deeply symbolic game as the former Taleban regime used the stadium for public executions, floggings and amputations.

Taleban leaders also banned footballers from wearing shorts and short-sleeves, and religious police often tried to force spectators to say prayers during half-time.

Most crucially, it was indicative of the end of Afghanistan's diplomatic and sporting isolation.

Afghan sportsmen found it virtually impossible to get visas to compete abroad during the years of Taleban rule.

And at the last Olympics Afghanistan was the only nation not to participate because the Taleban government was not recognised.

As a result international-class sports-people have had to wait while their best competing years slipped away.

International help

But now the Afghans can count on international assistance.

Action on the football pitch
The Afghan players' skills were praised by their English coach

In keeping with the sporting spirit, the teams played with a ball signed by members of England's Manchester United and Liverpool teams.

The Afghan team was also coached by the former England and Tottenham player Gary Mabbutt and former Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy.

They had praised the ball skills of the Afghan players, but were less complimentary about the pitch which is in a very poor condition.

Ironically, Afghanistan is not considered to have a great football tradition, being better known for martial arts and wrestling.

However despite losing to the peacekeepers, their enthusiasm could not be doubted.

The BBC's Adam Mynott
"It is another illustration of how the security situation is balanced on a knife-edge"
See also:

15 Feb 02 | South Asia
Kabul goes football crazy
15 Feb 02 | South Asia
Picture gallery: The Game of Unity
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