The Afghanistan football team – popularly known as the “Lions of Khorasan” - attracted the media’s attention by way of the variety of appearances its members put on show at the official presser of the Saff Championship at the Hotel Everest yesterday.
Afghanistan’s footballing history is interesting. The country became affiliated to FIFA in 1946 and six years, later became a founding member of the Asian Football Confederation. Despite this early start, the team did not play an international match until a 1941 draw with Iran. A mixture of wars and internal regimes discouraged football from 1984 to 2001, during which time the team was completely inactive.
Later, the Taliban effectively banned the sport from 1996 to 2001 but since the millennium, Afghanistan has improved drastically in competitive matches and surprised one-and-all by reaching the final of the last Saff Championship, where they were defeated by India.
Despite the momentum of the people’s enthusiasm, football remains a small part in the life of a country still trying to recover from the ravaging’s of war.
Before arriving to Nepal, Afghanistan beat Pakistan 3-0 in Kabul and were invited to Hamid Karzai’s palace afterwards. Even the then, the team failed to gain large scale support.
“Yes, with only high profile practice match before arriving in Nepal maybe is not enough, but we have to share the circumstances and I have the belief that the players will be in their best for the country,” said national coach Kargar.
The national coach was not afraid to express the frustration he felt about the lack of financial support for football from the government and business communities of the country. “The team has been participating in the Saff for over two years, but due to the lack of financial support, we have not won the title. This year we could not attend any training camp outside the country because the government and business community failed to provide any support,” he said.
Attacking midfielder Ahmed Aarsh spoke to the press in lieu of regular captain Harun Fakhruddin - who plays for Mumbai FC, and is expected to join the squad tomorrow. Aarsh plays in the US 2nd division for Oakland Ambassadors and was confident of putting a good show. “We are here to win the title. Last time we came near but did not win it but this time we want to take the trophy home,” he said.
Afghanistan are not short on players with experience of playing in Europe. In addition to Aarsh, Mustafa Azadzoy is based in Germany and was the best player against Pakistan. Sanjar Ahmadi, The 21-year-old Germany-based forward, scored the opener against Pakistan and is a clinical finisher. Twenty-seven year old Ali Ahmad Yarzada captained the defending Afghanistan domestic champions Toofan Harirood and is expected to be a key figure in the team. With a harmonious blend of perfect foreign based and local players, Afghanistan are solid contenders for lifting this year’s Saff trophy.