SAFF Championship 2013: Team Profile – Afghanistan
A big reason behind Afghanisan’s improvement at international level is their inspirational coach Yousef Kargar. The 51-year-old has been in charge since 2010 and is thus easily the longest-serving coach among the eight SAFF participating nations. However because of his red card and misconduct in an AFC Challenge Cup qualifier against Laos, Kargar has to serve a four-match ban and thus won’t be allowed on the technical arena at SAFF 2013 until the final. Argentinean Juan Marcos Troia was recruited on a temporary basis but was removed from the post just a few days after his appointment and the football federation has decided that assistant coach Ali Jawad Attayee will be in charge of the team in Kargar’s absence. The team would no doubt miss Kargar’s presence on the dugout but they are coming into the tournament with plenty of momentum.
Afghanistan are the only South Asian team who have made it through to the AFC Challenge Cup 2014 by winning their qualifying group which had hosts Laos, Sri Lanka and Mongolia. Afghanistan recorded wins over Sri Lanka and Mongolia and came from behind to hold Laos. In June, they played an away friendly against Tajikistan and although they lost, the Afghans put up a much better show than India as they were only beaten 3-2. However their most high-profile result of this calendar year was the 3-0 victory over Pakistan last week. It was Afghanistan’s first game on home soil since 2003 and attracted national interest with almost the entire population glued to their television sets while a capacity crowd witnessed the action at the newly-built Afghanistan Football Federation stadium in Kabul.
The team’s performance and the convincing scoreline made the players national heroes with even the country’s president Hamid Karzai inviting them at his residence. The whole squad are still getting the plaudits so there will certainly be an added confidence in the Afghanistan camp ahead of the SAFF Championship. However the team’s preparations were hit by the absence of several of their foreign-based players at the training camp in Kabul. Those overseas players including Mumbai FC’s Zohib Islam Amiri returned to club duty after the match against Pakistan thus Kargar and his coaching staff could only use the local-based players at the training camp. The team flies out to Nepal on Wednesday and the foreign-based stars are only expected to join them directly in Kathamandu. However there is no denying that Afghanistan have form and confidence on their side but can they make history by lifting their first international title in Kathmandu next month?
Squad for Pakistan friendly
Goalkeepers: Hamidullah Yosufzai, Mansur Faqiryar
Defenders:Ali Ahmad Yarzada, Muqadar Qazizadah, Zohib Islam Amiri, Mujtaba Faiz, Mustafa Hadid, Farzad Attayee, Zainuddin Sharifi, Faisal Sakhizada
Midfielders: Amruddin Sharifi , Yusef Mashriqi, Arash Hatifi, Mustafa Azadzoi, Marouf Mohammadi, Rafi Barekzai, Ata Yamirali, Waheed Nadim
Forwards: Balal Arezou, Sandjar Ahmadi, Hashmat Barekzai, Hameed Karimi
Ali Ahmad Yarzada
The captain of the defending Afghanistan domestic champions, Toofan Harirood, has done very well in central defence in the absence of the experienced Djelaludin Sharityar, who is injured. Yarzada played the entire 90 minutes against Pakistan and the 27-year-old is expected to be a key figure at SAFF 2013.
The Germany-based right winger made his debut for Afghanistan at the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers earlier this year and interestingly had never been to Afghanistan until this month when he trained and played in the Pakistan friendly. According to footballnameh.blogspot.com, he was the best player in that game.
According to footballnameh.blogspot.com, the fast opportunistic attacker has stepped up for the national team at a time when star striker Balal Arezou hasn’t been in the best of forms. The 21-year-old Germany-based forward scored the opener against Pakistan and will aim to be clinical and at the same time complement Arezou at SAFF 2013.
SAFF 2013 Group: Afghanistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan
SAFF 2013 Fixtures
September 2: Bhutan; September 4: Sri Lanka; September 6: Maldives
SAFF 2013 Expectations
For the first-time in their history Afghanistan will be coming into an international tournament as one of the favourites. If one goes by FIFA Rankings, Afghanistan are the best team in South Asia and thus will be expected to win the group. The first two games on paper should be easy wins for the Afghans and maybe this is where coach Kargar has to play an important role. He has to calm his players down and make them realise that they have to earn the right to play and not get complacent. The final group game against Maldives could decide top spot in the group and the winner could avoid India in the semis. Afghanistan have the personnel to go all the way and win this tournament so the fans back home will be expecting the same. The experience of losing the final in 2011 should make them mentally stronger for the big games this time so maybe the real fight for Afghanistan is not against Maldives or India but against themselves. If they can maintain their temperament and play at their best, Afghanistan will create history next month. This SAFF Championship is theirs to lose.