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Made in Europe, playing for Afghanistan

When Afghanistan line-up against Bhutan for their first match of the SAFF Championship here on September 2, there could be nine Europe-based players in the team. In the context of the game in south Asia that’s a massive number.

sports Updated: Aug 01, 2013 01:24 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

When Afghanistan line-up against Bhutan for their first match of the SAFF Championship here on September 2, there could be nine Europe-based players in the team. In the context of the game in south Asia that’s a massive number.

Most of the players are based in Germany and would arrive in Kabul 20 days prior to the tournament for a preparatory camp, said Sayed Ali Reza, secretary general of the Afghanistan Football Federation. As part of the preparation, Afghanistan will host Pakistan in a Fifa approved friendly on August 20, a first in several war-ravaged decades, said Reza speaking from Kabul.

Reza, who at 23 is said to be the youngest general secretary of a Fifa member, said “They have agents and delegations touring around top football leagues in the world searching for Afghan national talents. They are then contacted and invited to the national team.” Players based in the USA too have been called for the national team in the past.

A large chunk of the talent hunt in Europe is done by Ali Lali, who is also the technical advisor of the team. “He has been living in Germany for long and knows a lot of people there. That helps in locating and finding Afghan football players based in Germany and coordinating their invitations,” said Reza.

And unlike the Roland Oeltmans’ English language plan for Indian sportspersons, Reza said all the footballers speak the official languages of Afghanistan and hence little is lost in translation.

Most of the countries at the SAFF Championship have European coaches but with almost all the national team players based in the countries of their birth. At Afghanistan, the trend’s been reversed. Their coach Mohammed Yousef Kargar has been in charge since 2008.

Six slots above India at 140 on the latest Fifa list, Afghanistan were also the competition’s highest ranked team in Tuesday’s draw here. They were 178th during the last edition of the competition in New Delhi where they lost 0-4 to India in the final. Their league generates the maximum revenue in south Asia. Reza didn’t confirm this for reasons of confidentiality but it was learnt that the revenue is in excess of $3million. Contrast that to the I-League which doesn’t have a title sponsor and no long-term broadcast deal.

“Football in Afghanistan has huge fan base and can grow dramatically,” said Reza.

The writer’s trip was sponsored by World Sports Group