KABUL (AFP) – UEFA president Michel Platini on Sunday vowed to help football grow in Afghanistan as he visited the capital Kabul and praised players for keeping the game alive through decades of warfare.
Platini's visit came amid a nationwide surge in interest in football after the national team beat India 2-0 in the final of the South Asian Football Federation championship earlier this month in Nepal.
The win was Afghanistan's first international trophy, and the country erupted in joy with happy crowds pouring onto the streets to mark the occasion as guns were fired into the air in celebration.
"They have won matches despite the insecurity, so they have continued to play football during some difficult moments," Platini said. "It is for that that I respect them a lot."
The 58-year-old former French international, who is also vice-president of world body FIFA, chatted with young players at the Afghan Football Federation (AFF) ground, and was also due to meet with President Hamid Karzai.
"We are ready to help," he said. "We are not allowed to give money, but we are allowed... to help on the grassroots and with many programmes that we can do, and we will be very proud to help Afghanistan."
"I've just seen young players play football with some girls, that is very nice, that is my pleasure. When I see that I'm very happy."
Danesh Morteza, spokesman for the AFF, said that other football stars should follow in the footsteps of Platini and David Beckham, who visited British troops in Helmand province in 2010.
"Football has risen to such a peak that Mr. Platini has come to Afghanistan, and his visit shows that we have good security here," he said.
The country remains in the grip of a violent Islamist insurgency that erupted after a US-backed uprising ousted the Taliban in 2001.
The hardline Taliban regime did not ban football for men, but all women lived highly restricted lives, unable to leave their homes without a male escort and dressed in an all-covering burqa.
The Taliban were also infamous for holding public executions of criminals during sports games in Kabul.