KABUL -- Afghanistan's national soccer team has reached the final of a regional tournament in India just days after a twin suicide attack killed dozens, including several family members of the team's players, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports.
Afghanistan's Balal Arezo scored the solitary goal of the semifinal match to defeat Nepal 1-0 in New Delhi on December 9 and give Afghanistan a first-ever berth in the deciding match of the South Asian Football Federation Cup, where the team will play India on December 11. (UPDATE: Afghanistan lost 4-0 to India -- Eds.)
But the win, one of the greatest days in Afghanistan's modest football history, was overshadowed by tragedy in the war-ravaged country.
The victory comes only a few days after a twin suicide attack on Shi'ite Muslims in the capital, Kabul, and the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, in which some 60 people were killed, including four family members of one of the team's players, Mustafa Madar.
Two former national soccer team members and an under-17 team player were also wounded in the attack.
Every Afghan player who scored against Bhutan in the quarterfinal on December 7, which Afghanistan won 8-1, embraced Madar, who was on the sidelines.
Following that game, Afghan head coach Mohammad Yusuf Kargar dedicated the win to victims of the attacks and their families. He said the bombings have given his players extra motivation to win the final.
"On the pitch on December 11 the players will be playing for their team, their families, their country, and for their war-suffering countrymen," Kargar told RFE/RL on December 9.
Soccer has faced many setbacks in Afghanistan in the last 30 years. In 1980, the entire national team sought asylum in West Germany following the Soviet invasion the year before.
During the Taliban's rule in the 1990s, all sports were banned and the country's national soccer stadium in Kabul was used for executions.
But in recent years, the sport has reemerged and there are now two professional leagues in the country -- the Afghan National League and the Kabul Premier League.
Despite such gains, the leagues are still suffering from severe underfunding.