Afghanistan’s unlikely football league: eight teams, 18 matches and one city

Afghanistan’s first professional football league was set up in 2012 – with the help of a reality TV show – and it has given fans some much-needed normality

By Richard Foster for The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Guardian Sport Network

The last time Afghan football attracted the attention of the global media, it was all down to a plastic bag, a young boy and his idol. Lionel Messi met Murtaza Ahmadi in December after a picture of the five-year old in his homemade blue-and-white striped replica shirt had captured the world’s sympathy.

After Ahmadi was tracked down to the Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, the UN’s child refugee agency arranged a meeting with Messi in Doha, before a friendly between Barcelona and Al-Ahli, where he was also the official mascot. The unfortunate and telling consequence of this moment of fame was that the Murtaza family had to move to Pakistan shortly afterwards because of fears the boy would be kidnapped, an all too common occurrence in his own country.

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