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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK
Afghanistan scraps football team
Missing Afghan footballers
The players' disappearance sparked a major alert
Afghanistan's football federation has decided to disband the national side after nine players absconded last week while on a tour of Italy.

A spokesman said the footballers had "dishonoured the country".

The players went missing in Verona and several then surfaced in Germany and the Netherlands to claim asylum.

The series of games planned in Italy, the team's first appearance in Europe for 20 years, was aimed at raising money for the Afghan health system.

Executions

The footballers, who disappeared after a night out in Verona, sparked a major police alert, but it was too late to catch them.

The team coach, Mir Ali Asger Akbarzola, was bitterly unhappy and disillusioned.

"It's 20 years since our national side last played in Europe and our people need football to give them hope," Italy's Ansa news agency quoted him as saying at the time.

The football federation says it has decided to try to build a totally new team, rather than continue with the remnants of the old one.

Football is a popular sport among Afghans, but under the Taleban regime from 1996 to 2001, players were banned from wearing shorts and short sleeves, and religious police often tried to force spectators to say prayers during half-time.

Matches at the stadium in Kabul were also often preceded by public executions or amputations.


SEE ALSO:
Afghan footballers go 'missing'
13 Apr 04  |  Europe
Afghan soccer defectors return
29 Jun 02  |  South Asia
Football family helps Afghanistan
17 Sep 03  |  World Football



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