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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 22:28 GMT
Kabul goes football crazy
Isaf goal
The peacekeeping force came out 3-1 winners
Marcus George

Bar the odd bloody nose and sliding tackle, the contact was mostly off the field as Kabul's best footballers played a "game of unity" with a team from the British-led peacekeeping force.

Afghans with and without tickets turned up to the game in their droves. With an hour to go before kick-off the stadium was packed and besieged by thousands more, leading to an impromptu struggle with security troops from the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

If the referee had been in charge of security a lot of spectators would have received red cards

Walls were scaled and hordes of spectators broke the Isaf lines. Within minutes, German security guards reached for smoke canisters to control the multiplying crowd.

The mob rushed again, this time with a volley of stones for cover.

The Germans, seeing a real match on their hands, ruthlessly fought back the tide of people, while outside the stadium, Afghan security police joined the foray, letting loose shots from their Kalashnikovs into the air.

Match officials lead the teams out
The match had all the trappings of a crunch encounter

Bit by bit, man by man, order was restored.

If the referee had been in charge of security a lot of spectators would have received red cards. But on the day only one yellow card was seen, and that for a maverick French trooper, who began a comedy act on the pitch's sideline.

As for the match itself, the first half belonged to the Afghans, Kabul United, while the second was snatched by the visitors, who by the final whistle had romped home to a 3-1 victory.

With all the ceremonial trappings of a truly British event, including a gurkha military band and Afghan dancing boys, the game got under way, both sides heading towards goal like steam trains.

The team from the Isaf peacekeepers looked to impose its might against the diminutive Afghan players early on.

'Fairytale' goal

But the nimble-footed home side quickly mapped out their territory - one-twos, reverse passes, and, within the first 15 minutes, a goal from an overhead kick which the football legend Pele would have been hard pushed to match.

The 30,000 crowd went wild.

Crowd scene
Local joy was short-lived

Lawrie McMenemy, the former Northern Ireland manager now coaching Kabul United, flew from his pitch-side seat to congratulate his team on what he described as "a scissor kick out of a fairytale".

But just 15 minutes later the Isaf's Corporal Lagourie broke his team's lethargy, rocking the back of the home net with a deadly shot from just inside the penalty area.

The stadium fell silent, bar the Isaf spectators, whose bellows reverberated around the ground.


After a dull start to the second half, the Isaf team began to turn the screw.

Their passing, even if it lacked excitement, began to make roads into the Afghan defence. Their own sturdy defenders kept the home side at bay and soon its players were showing signs of fatigue.

Scattered rainfall slowed the game up, but the Isaf pressed on relentlessly.

Somehow, amid the tiredness and rainfall, the ball found its gentle way to the back of the Afghan net.

The gauntlet had been thrown down, but the home side could no longer rise to the challenge.

Two minutes on and Isaf sealed their win with a third.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | South Asia
Crowd trouble mars Kabul football match
15 Feb 02 | South Asia
Picture gallery: The Game of Unity
15 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw caution on more troops
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