Months after putting up a spirited display in the cricket World Cup, Afghanistan's national team left the football field as national heroes, despite losing to India in the South Asia Football Federation (SAFF) Championship final on January 3.
The two teams did not score any goals until the last minutes of the second half of normal time when Afghanistan took the lead only for India to level up instantly.
After extra time was announced, India scored a second goal and claimed the trophy of a tournament that saw its smaller conflict-torn neighbour beat Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka in a remarkable effort.
To encourage the team, Afghanistan's President Ghani had spoken with them ahead of the final match:
— ارګ (@ARG_AFG) January 2, 2016
The president then watched the final match live on television with a few members of his cabinet.
— Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) January 3, 2016
While former president Hamid Karzai also watched the match at home:
— shafi شفيع شريفى (@ShafiSharifi) January 3, 2016
Other Afghan ministers, parliament members, singers and Afghans joined in supporting the national team.
Khalil Noori, a senior BBC producer based in Afghanistan, posted an image of Atta M. Noor, the governor of Balkh, watching the match in excitement.
— Khalil Noori (@KhalilNoori) January 3, 2016
Also present was Farzana Naz, a female Afghan singer, holding the Afghan flag and cheering for the Afghan team in the stadium with friends:
Photo of the day. Beautiful Afg singer Farzana Naz travelled all the way to India to support Afghan Football team. pic.twitter.com/UwjbybzpIn
— Najeebullah Akhterzi (@Akhterzi) January 3, 2016
As the final match was being played out, female supporters took to the streets of Kabul to support the national team.
— Samiullah Hussaini (@h_sami) January 3, 2016
— Ibrahim khan Zazai (@ibrahimzazai) January 3, 2016
This wasn't the first time Afghanistan had impressed at the biennial competition that has become South Asia’s most significant football tournament.
They ran out surprise winners of the 2013 version, when India was again the opposition, two years after being beaten by the same team 4-0.
Although, the team lost the final match this year, their impressive performance was more than a victory for Afghans, given the sporting wilderness they experienced during the Taliban era.
After a generation, we have a nat'l sports team. After a generation, our team has a nation behind it. That's worth more than victory or loss. — Ahmad Shuja احمدشجاع (@AhmadShuja) January 3, 2016
In response to Ahmad Shuja's tweet, Amar Sinha, Ambassador of India to Afghanistan, wrote:
While Zafar Mehdi, an Afghan journalist, sprinkled in the bitter lemons associated with football fans across the world.
Indian consulate attacked
A few hours after the final, however, the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif was attacked by gunmen.
Harun Najafizada, a BBC journalist tweeted:
Other Afghans suspicious about the timing of the attack were impatiently waiting for more details.
So, was the Indian Consulate in Mazar e Sharif main target of the attack? Who were the perpetrators? Let's wait patiently for the answers. — Zafar Mehdi (@mehdizafar) January 3, 2016
Sharif Hassan, a Washington Post journalist based in Afghanistan, warned that the assault was not related to football.
— Sharif Hassan (@MSharif1990) January 3, 2016
Only one person has since been reported injured during the attack.
Although, no group has taken responsibility, Afghans are worried that this might damage the strong friendship between Afghanistan and India.
Afghanistan's first vice president, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, tweeted a reassurance:
No violence against India can damage our relationship. Out thoughts with all staff and diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif.
— General Dostum (@ARashidDostum) January 3, 2016