Afghan under-23 national football team played against Iran on Sunday as part of preparations for 2016 Olympic Games. But despite the 6-0 loss to Iran, it was heartening to see over 80,000 Afghan fans who attended the match, a figure several times larger than their Iranian counterparts at the stadium.
Both teams started well after Iran opened the Afghan goal four times in the first half of the game. According to local media, the overwhelming Afghan support surprised even the Iranians.
The 3TV network said that around 80,000 Afghan spectators gathered to support their team. Afghans dominated the second floor of the stadium and grabbed most parts of the first floor as well. Iranians were allocated the first floor and the number of spectators hardly made it to 300.
Social media users shared their photos of watching the match displaying the strength of the Afghan supporters.
An Iranian comic, Mohsen Khodabakhshi, wrote on his Facebook page about the Afghan audience, “Iran–Palastain played on the same ground (Azadi stadium) and the number of spectators was hardly reaching 200. Afghanistan–Saudi Arabia played at Dastarji ground, the number of spectators was 12,000. Tomorrow is a match between Afghanistan and Iran, what will be strength the crowd? 12,200 spectators: 200 Iranians and 12,000 Afghans? 12,200 spectators, all Afghans? 100,000 spectators, all Afghans?”
An Afghan who was in the audience, Naimat Rahimi, gathered some comments from Iranian spectators. He wrote on Facebook, “I woke up early and saw the huge number of Afghan fans at the stadium. I was close to tears when my father told me they are all Afghans.”
Misbah, an Iranian Twitter user pointed out the problems of Afghan refugees and said, “Iran attacks continue, but the real attack will be started by the Iranian police when the Afghan audience leave the stadium.”
Audience, the real winners
Iran football coach also said at the end of the match that, the real winners were the sporting audience, because they gave then energy.
However Iranian national football team coach said that they must have a four-year plan for the Olympic Games.
Afghan Coach Hussain Salehi congratulated Iran and said, “We have never justified defeat. We are the team that have played four hard matches in eight days without any rest”.
He wrote to the technical committee and said that those who decide for the matches should know that Afghan team have already played three consecutive hard matches, without any break. It will be hard to play with a team like Iran, who are strongly motivated and difficult to defeat.
“Afghan football team has its strengths. They started playing only three months ago, but still kept the hopes alive. The winning point was the Afghan supporters who participated in huge numbers at Azadi stadium,” he added.
The Afghan Football Federation (AFF) thanked the Afghan spectators who motivated their team. Afghanistan have won one, lost another, and tied at the remaining two games.