SAFF Championship 2013: Team of the tournament
Central Midfield: Mohammed Rafi (Afghanistan)
The youngster was one of the unsung heroes of SAFF 2013 champions Afghanistan as he kept producing consistent displays in the middle of the park without doing anything spectacular. He did make headlines for scoring directly from a corner against Sri Lanka and that was one of the most vital moments of Afghanistan’s campaign as they were trailing 1-0. Rafi’s passing and awareness in midfield was vital for Afghanistan’s attacks and he also did a great job tracking back to help out his defence. Rafi was undoubtedly one of the best central midfielders of the tournament.
Central Midfield: Mohammed Arif (Maldives)
Arif produced three powerful displays from midfield in the group games and although Ali Ashfaq made the headlines, it was this 28-year-old who kept the island nation ticking by linking defence and attack. The highly experienced medio wasn’t allowed to have an influence in the semi-final against India and that just shows how important he is for Maldives. Arif did an excellent job closing down opponents and used his left foot at every opportunity to open up the opposition. Although offensively he didn’t have much impact against India, Arif’s physical presence stopped Wim Koevermans’ side from creating clear cut chances in open play.
Left Midfield: Bharat Khawas (Nepal)
Although the local media was a little critical of his performances, Khawas in truth couldn’t have done any better at SAFF 2013. The 21-year-old showed great stamina in all the four matches that he featured in and was highly versatile as he did well upfront and on both flanks. Khawas finished his only goal of the tournament clinically against Bangladesh and was always a lively character on the pitch for the hosts. The Nepal Army Club player did more than a decent job on the left wing whenever he was asked to play there and could have had a couple of assists against Afghanistan in the semi-final, had his teammates converted or got on the end of his crosses.
Centre-forward: Sanjar Ahmadi (Afghanistan)
The Germany-based striker had been more prolific than the experienced Balal Arezou leading up to the tournament, but failed to get on the scoresheet during the group stage. However, the 21-year-old still had a presence in attack and kept getting into good positions in all three group games. He found his scoring boots in the knockout stage and scored in both the semi-final and final. In both games Ahmadi showed great predatory instincts to be at the right place and right time. Besides the goals too, the youngster showed immense work rate and troubled the opposition centre-backs by running the channels.
Centre-forward: Ali Ashfaq (Maldives)
His inclusion in this team might come across as a bit ironic considering he only performed in two games after the opposition was reduced to ten. But ten goals in two games is a great return at any level of football and it also won him the top scorer accolade for the very first time in the SAFF Championship. Ashfaq also broke three individual records – most goals in one SAFF Championship game, most goals in one edition and most goals in the tournament’s history. But all that possibly won’t matter to him much as he doesn’t have the SAFF 2013 winners’ medal to show for it. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t present to receive the highest scorer award on Wednesday.