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Proud Afghans make emotional return - Nov 25, 2006

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The smiles on the faces of Afghanistan's basketball players said it all as they paraded their national flag during a lap of honour following a victorious return to international competition.

Afghanistan had just beaten Hong Kong, China in their opening match at the 15th Asian Games Doha 2006, following years of exile from the basketball scene.

For the players, coaching staff and officials, it was a chance for celebration that they were not prepared to let pass. Understandable, as opportunities for Afghanistan's sportsmen to represent their country have been few and far between in recent years.

That is all about to change. Apart from the basketball, Afghanistan will bring 35 other athletes to the Games, competing in sports such as taekwondo, boxing, fencing and wrestling.

“To be on the roster for Afghanistan is a big thing for us,” 19 year-old Farhad Nangialai, one of many basketball players based in the United States, told our courtside reporter. “We're all Afghans, friends, cousins. We didn't think playing basketball with each other would get to this point that we'd represent our nation.

"It's something any Afghan athlete in any sport dreams of. To one day put on the uniform of your country and represent them to the best of their ability.

“We're not playing for the name on the back of the jersey, but for the name on the front of the jersey."

The national pride was eminent from start to finish as Afghanistan battled to a 65-57 win over Hong Kong, China on Thursday 23 November to give themselves a chance of qualifying from a three-team qualifying group.

One day later, and with a passionate support cheering their every move, Afghanistan pushed group favourites Syria to the wire before losing 84-66.

The defeat and subsequent exit from the competition did not matter, however. “It is just a privilege to be here,” said head coach Zabi Subat, a player with the national team between 1973 and 1976.

After leading his Kabul high school to the national championship and coaching other school teams, Subat left the country instead of going into the military. Seeking to continue his education he ended up in the US by way of Libya and Germany.

It is from Los Angeles that he moulded a team worthy of competing on the international stage, with a number of Afghans coming through trials held in the US.

“The kids are very excited about being here and we are all very proud to represent Afghanistan,” Subat said. “It is the first time for a very long time that we have had a basketball team and I am very proud of them.

“Did you see how close we came against Syria? It was beautiful to see how well they performed.

“These results will be noticed back home. Everyone was keen to see how we would get on and the team can proud of their efforts.”

Performing well in Doha can only boost Afghanistan's sporting hopes for the future and it was left to a beaming Subat to pledge as his team departed the court: “You just watch us next time. We will be even better.”

(Courtesy of Doha 2006 official website)  

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