Chants of "A-F-G! A-F-G!" were ringing around Melbourne yesterday as Afghanistan won the 2008 Homeless World Cup after a dramatic 5-4 win over Russia in the final.
Deserving winners - Afghanistan were undefeated all week and also beat Russia in the group stage - the central Asians took the tournament by storm both with their inspired play and their devoted legion of fans, which turned every match into a party.
Earlier in the day, Zambia took the inaugural Women’s World Cup after a 7-1 win over a severely depleted Liberia in the final. The Africans, who dominated their competition all week, have set the benchmark for other female teams to aim at next year.
Homeless World Cup co-founder Mel Young said Melbourne had set a new standard for the tournament, both in terms of organisation and its effect on the city.
The latter was evident throughout the week as the stands filled with cheering fans each day, whether to celebrate dramatic shootouts between Scotland and England, or the multiple attempted scissor kicks from Belgium’s crowd favourite Nourdine Benaissa.
Reigning champions Scotland triumphed in Saturday's Battle of Britain, defeating England on penalties having drawn 7-7. The 2007 winners then 7-3 lost to Russia in the semi-final before going down 6-4 to Ghana in the 3rd place play-off.
Ghana themselves had lost in the semi-final to Afghanistan. Sporting their Umbro kit donated by Club Website, the west African side gave the eventual winners their toughest game of the tournament, battling out a 5-5 draw before losing on penalties.
About the Homeless World Cup
The Homeless World Cup has brought together 56 teams from across the globe for a unique street football tournament. It uses football as a catalyst to encourage people who are homeless to change their lives; and to change the attitudes of governments, media, public and key influencers to create better solutions to homelessness around the world.
The annual event unites teams of people who are homeless to take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent their country at the beautiful game.
It has triggered and supports grassroots football programs in over 60 nations engaging 30,000 homeless players all year round.
World-leading social entrepreneur Mel Young founded the tournament in 2003, where Graz in Austria played host to the inaugural tournament.
Since then it has gained great momentum in Gothenburg, Sweden (2004), Edinburgh, Scotland (2005), Cape Town, South Africa (2006) and Copenhagen, Denmark (2007). It will visit Milan, Italy in 2009.
Research consistently demonstrates that over 70 per cent of players involved in the tournament experience a significant life change. They come off drugs and alcohol, move into homes, jobs, education and training, repair relationships and even become coaches and players.
The legacy of the Melbourne event will be the roll out of 30 street soccer programs across Australia.
For more information on the Homeless World Cup, including match reports, photos, team profiles and much more, visit www.homelessworldcup.org.
How can I help?
The Homeless World Cup is possible because of all the people around the world uniting to support sport for social change.
You can help support the tournament in a number of ways - join the fan club from £10, buy the T-shirt, make a donation or raise some money via sponsorship.
To do your bit to help out, visit www.homelessworldcup.org.