Yesterday, 19 October 2012, Tofan Harirod defeated Simorgh Alborz 2-1 in a hotly contested final match of the Roshan Afghan Premier League. This may not have decisive and immediate implications on the political situation of Afghanistan, but the date will indeed remain a memorable one in the annals of Afghan sport. Moreover, it turned out to be a lovely way to spend the week-end for AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini, who had the chance to attend the match.
After a morning full of football events (including a match between female teams), the moment many Afghans were waiting for came at 14.30, when the players of Tofan Harirod and Simorgh Alborz entered the playing field, the newly built Roshan stadium, to contest in the final of the first Afghan Premier League, also referred to as the Roshan Cup (see our previous blog here).
The day before the match for the third position had been won by De Maiwand Atalan, who effected a noteworthy feat, pulling back the two goals they had suffered in the opening minutes of the match to end winning 3-2 against Spinghar Bazan.
Yesterday’s match was also alive up to the very last minute, and indeed it ignited immediately. The echo of the referee’s whistle had barely vanished when Tofan came down fast on the right flank, effected a beautiful cross right into the middle of the penalty area – a clumsy intervention by the goalkeeper who could not hold the ball helped there – and scored the first goal in the face of an astonished Simorgh and its fans. Quite like the team’s name – evoking the sudden windstorms that sweep Afghanistan.
Maruf Mohammadi, the instant scorer, would eventually win the title of best player of the match, and the prize of 50,000 Afs attached to it. Indeed, the first part of the game was dominated by Tofan. The team from Western Afghanistan showed more technical skills, and a better array on the field and organisation of their game. For example, they were using, for their offensive actions, also the left flank (rarely if at all explored by their opponents – the difficulty of finding good left wingers probably accounting for that). It was in fact from the left that came their second goal, when Hamidullah Karimi (himself the top scorer of the team in previous matches; so far they had never scored less than four goals in a match, even destroying the Spinghar Bazan by 10:0 in the semi final) carried out a devastating descent, dribbling and pass, with the ball finally put in the net by Ghulam Reza Yaqubi.
On their part, the northern Simorgh’s play did not impress excessively during the first half. Their defence often appeared troubled, with the goalie unable to catch the ball firmly on more occasions – although later in the match one could blame the thin rain that kept falling persistently. The team appeared, on the contrary, fully transformed after the break – which included a fantastic extravaganza program of kids dancing attan, exhibition of young artist of the Afghan Circus and football acrobatics by Habibullah Afghani.
Simorgh’s newly found self-confidence and will to react was apparent in the increasing number of attack actions in the second half, a couple among them being sky clear missed opportunities, like when number nine Omid Nasib perfectly controlled a high ball with his chest and punted it very well: the shot was powerful but central and the Tofan goalkeeper managed to deflect the ball for a corner. Helped by one expulsion among Tofan’s ranks, for a second yellow card (the game was incredibly fair, however, with many petty fouls but without a single brawl between players, and no major injuries: only defender Hamidullah Habibi of Tofan got a scratch on his head and had to continue playing with a bandage on throughout the match) Simorgh transformed the last twenty minutes of the match into a virtual siege of the Tofan penalty area.
Finally, they managed to score, with a header from Hossain Mohammadi following a corner kick, but that was right after the 90th minute, and with only a few minutes injury time to go. By then, to win the match, or at least to equalise and get into extra time, they should have really burnt a magic feather of the legendary bird from which they got their name, to conjure him to their rescue (like Shahnamah’s hero Rostam once did, successfully, to receive help against his foe Esfandyar).
After the final whistle, the stadium exploded in celebrations, with loud music and singing and shouting and running around with the Afghan flag draped on one’s shoulders. Photographs were taken, prizes distributed (among those attending it fellow sportsmen, like two-time Olympic medallist Rohullah Nikpa), and slowly slowly the program winded down as evening fell. Well did the Afghans in celebrating, as the match – and the whole Premier League apparently – were really enjoyable (and you can also watch it full online). Popular prices for tickets (50 Afs) meant that the attendance was massive (around 4000 persons) and real, there were even many women – merrily dressed and loud in their support – in the VIP section that hosted, among other, players from the eliminated teams; many of them seemed to have come from Herat and be relatives or fans of the Tofan players.(1) The organisation of the event went smoothly, and notwithstanding the excited crowd and the precautionary deployment of a high number of police there were no episodes of violence. I think in the end everybody involved – players, fans, journalists, policemen and streetsellers – deeply appreciated this bit of exciting normality.
We hope to have far more Fridays like this in Kabul.
(1) The match, however, was overshadowed by a tragic traffic accident in northern Jowzjan province on Thursday, in which nine football players, apparently supporters of Simurgh travelling to Kabul, were killed (read here).
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020