Friendship’ or grudge match? Rare soccer clash unites Afghanistan, Pakistan

Arch-rivals Afghanistan and Pakistan meet on the soccer pitch 3:10

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A rare soccer game between neighboring arch-rivals Afghanistan and Pakistan on Tuesday may have been dubbed the “Friendship Match” but there was no love lost between the countries both on and off the field. 

Afghanistan may be ranked only 139th in the world by FIFA with Pakistan even lower on the list at 167th, but the game was still the hottest ticket in Kabul. 

Security concerns had prevented Afghanistan's national team from playing a home game for a decade. A sellout crowd of 6,000 watched Afghanistan win 3-0.

Fans watching the Afghanistan vs. Pakistan soccer match on Tuesday. Jamieson Lesko / NBC News

Riot police flanked the field and a few scuffles broke out before kick-off in the Afghan capital. Security was incredibly tight with armed officers performing full body pat-downs and multiple bag searches as fans entered the packed stadium.

Relations between the two countries have traditionally been tense due to the Pakistani military's links to the Taliban. The situation wasn't helped earlier this summer when Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry accused Pakistan of having raised the idea of power-sharing between the Kabul government and the Taliban. Pakistan denied the accusation.

The match was held less than half a mile away from Ghazni Stadium, where the Taliban carried out executions, stonings and mutilations while ruling the country from 1996 to 2001. 

The rival national teams hadn't met on Afghan soil since a 1-0 home victory 37 years ago.

Inam Syed, a structural engineer from Kabul, said he hoped the game would improve relations between the neighbors.

“We are all at one with Pakistan,” he said. “I think this definitely helps the relationship. This game shows there is some goodwill left. I think this is a good way to keep the nations together.

Fazlullah, a 25-year-old student living in Kabul, said the game was a sign of "growing peace, stability and improving relations between the two countries."

He added: "It shows that things are getting safer here in Kabul."

Dr Mohammad Daud Yaar, Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.K., said that he was pleased with the result but hoped that the game would help to improve the "complex" relationship between the neighbors.

General admission tickets for Tuesday's Afghanistan vs. Pakistan "friendship match" sold for about $3. The best seats were going for about $5. Jamieson Lesko / NBC News

“I am old enough to remember Henry Kissinger and his ping-pong diplomacy with China,” he said. “So I’m hopeful that this will work in a similar way."

Yousef Kargar, head coach of the Afghan national team, expressed similar sentiments.

"I am sure that this game will contribute to better understanding between Afghans and Pakistanis of all ages," he said. "We hope that this game will open the door for the national team to host more games in Kabul so that we do not have to travel abroad to play our 'home games'."

NBC News' Henry Austin and Reuters contributed to this report.