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Asian football chief hails Afghan win

Shaikh Salman tips Afghanistan for AFC Challenge Cup success as thousands welcome victorious SAFF winners home.

Last Modified: 13 Sep 2013 10:32
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Afghanistan clinched the SAFF title and their first international trophy on Wednesday with victory over India [AFP]

Asia's football chief Friday said Afghanistan had a strong chance of reaching the next Asian Cup after shocking India to lift their first international trophy.

Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said Afghanistan, who won the South Asian Football Federation title in Kathmandu on Wednesday, were now among the favourites for the AFC Challenge Cup.

Winners of the competition, to be held in the Maldives next year, will gain automatic entry to the continent's top tournament, the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.

Afghanistan's success in South Asia has... served a caution to 2014 AFC Challenge Cup title aspirants. They have showed their mettle at the regional level and I think they would be one of the favourites in Maldives

Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, AFC President,

"Afghanistan's success in South Asia has... served a caution to 2014 AFC Challenge Cup title aspirants," the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) boss said.

"They have showed their mettle at the regional level and I think they would be one of the favourites in Maldives."

"I feel this victory will prove to be an inspiration to millions of Afghans around the world," Shaikh Salman said in a statement.

Warm welcome

Wednesday's 2-0 win by Afghanistan, ranked 139th in the world, prompted heady scenes in Kabul where the team were welcomed home by the president and thousands of fans.

President Hamid Karzai greeted the team on Thursday at the Kabul airport, hugging the players and posing with them and their gleaming trophy for the cameras.

The athletes then headed to Ghazi Stadium, where they were met by thousands of rambunctious fans who screamed in happiness and jostled - at times dangerously - to get close to their heroes.

The win brought rare unity to this ethnically divided nation, where the former Taliban government once used sports stadiums to stage executions and where bombings are still part of daily life. The reaction indicated that Afghan society had healed in some ways since the US ousted the Islamist movement in 2001.

For hours after the win, Afghans danced in the streets, honked car horns and fired guns in celebration. Some painted their bodies the green, black and red colours of the national flag.

On Thursday morning, many greeted one another with "Congratulations!'' while shouts of "Long live Afghanistan!'' were still echoing across the capital by the evening.

Afghan television networks devoted heavy airtime to the players' return, interspersed with performances of patriotic songs.

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