KANDAHAR - Cricket fans across Afghanistan generated a party mood for their team's World Cup debut on Wednesday, but there were long faces as their side crumbled to a big defeat by Bangladesh. In towns and villages across the country, crowds gathered round TVs in restaurants, cafes and even in the street to watch the game.

Hundreds huddled together in front of a big-screen TV outside a wedding hall in the southern city of Kandahar, once the heartland of the Taliban. The excitement grew as the Afghan fast bowlers tied Bangladesh down during the early overs in the Australian capital of Canberra, and each wicket was greeted with deafening cheers.

But the mood turned glum as the Afghan innings began with the loss of three quick wickets, with the newcomers eventually going down by the large margin of 105 runs. Ahmad Shoaib had been optimistic the Afghans would cap their fairytale rise to the World Cup with a win. "I am at loss for the words. I could smash the TV. After all those stunning achievements, we were hoping for a better performance against Bangladesh," he told AFP.

"How did we lose to Bangladesh? I can't believe it, we had beaten them before!", he added in a reference to Afghanistan's one-day win over the Test nation during last year's Asia Cup. In the eastern city of Jalalabad, near the border with Pakistan, there was, perhaps, the biggest concentration of fans, with the streets and government offices deserted during the match.

Humayun, who like many Afghans uses only one name, had bought 15 kilos of oranges to distribute among the crowd at a restaurant if the team had won. But as Afghanistan's chances ebbed away, he left the restaurant, taking the oranges with him. Some fans took a more philosophical approach.

"This is one match, there is always the chance of winning or losing. Today luck was not on our side," said Baryalai, aged in his 30s, in Kandahar. And there was confidence among some that the side would learn from their emphatic loss. "This was the first match and we lost, but there is still hope," said Hashem Yousufzai in Kandahar.

"Our team can recover, can retaliate, can make a strong comeback. I pray for it and I know my prayers will come true!" Afghanistan face a tough challenge in their next match, when they take on the mighty Sri Lanka, 1996 World Cup-winners and beaten finalists in the last two editions.