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An Afghan XI sans frontiers

Ahead of their opening Saff Championship tie against India on Saturday, Yousef Samy, Mohammad Yusef Mashriqi and Ahmad Arash Hatifie spoke to HT about the unique occurrence of how disparate individuals come together to wear the same colours on the pitch, all in the hope of helping the politically-troubled and much maligned nation chart a new course via the beautiful game.

sports Updated: Dec 03, 2011 01:45 IST
Tomojit Basu

A San Francisco-based real-estate broker and a data systems manager along with a high-school physical education teacher from New York probably have as much in common as bulls and fine china. But American-bred Yousef Samy, Mohammad Yusef Mashriqi and Ahmad Arash Hatifie represent a few of Afghanistan's diaspora who are called into action when the country competes in international football tournaments.

Ahead of their opening Saff Championship tie against India on Saturday, the trio spoke to HT about the unique occurrence of how disparate individuals come together to wear the same colours on the pitch, all in the hope of helping the politically-troubled and much maligned nation chart a new course via the beautiful game.

"That's about it, man," began Bay Area Ambassadors defender and Major League Soccer (MLS) club San Jose Earthquakes' 25-year-old reserve Samy. "It's all about the pride in representing Afghanistan. Even though we weren't born there, we're trying to do our bit for the country through football. The Bay Area in California has a massive Afghan population (it's often referred to as 'Little Kabul') and there's a yearly tournament in the Washington DC area that allows us to meet other Afghan players based in the States."

When asked by HT if gelling with the side becomes problematic given the lack of time spent in training with the rest of the players, 25-year-old central-midfielder Hatifie who plays for amateur US outfit Afghan Premier said, "Not at all. We all speak fluent Farsi and Pashto. It's fun interacting with these guys because we've never really stayed in Afghanistan so it sort of takes us back to the roots."

Mashriqi has represented New York Cosmos and was a New York Red Bulls reserve before being singled out by team coach Yousef Khargar at an Afghan football tournament in California. The central midfielder, whose grandfather Gulflower and father Tahir have both been national players, felt that football could contribute to the spirit of country building.

"Sport helps bring about change and it's effective in keeping people engaged especially now that the Taliban days are done. We're just regular guys with regular jobs but this is the way we can hope to show the country in a positive light," said the 24-year-old who stated that his only visit to Afghanistan lasted all of eight hours. "I'd love to play in Kabul at least once," he added.

Apart from the American troika, there are three Germany-based players (midfielder Ata Yamrali, forward Sanjar Ahamadi and defensive-midfielder Djelaludin Sharityar who plays for Cypriot club Ethnikos Achna) and Norwegian outfit Asker's much-touted striker Bilal Arezou in the ranks.

Ranked 178 and with little more than a 10-day preparatory camp in Dubai ahead of their clash with the hosts, Afghanistan will pray that its foreign flavour helps pull off a stunning surprise. "You know never know, it would be one hell a start now wouldn't it," Samy exclaimed.