When you hear the name of Afghanistan, you can think of war, bombs, ammunition. Adolescents growing up there do not get a play environment. So many Afghans leave the country with their families whenever they get a chance. Abahani defender Masih Saigani moved to Germany with his family in 1986 when he was just two years old. The current Afghan football team is made up of Afghans who have grown up in the water and air of Europe.
It would not be wrong to call Afghanistan a ‘European team’. The team has also become the champion in South Asian football due to its touch of Europe with strength, courage and strategy. Only three of the 26 members of the Afghanistan team that will face Bangladesh today at the Jasim Bin Hamad Stadium in Dohar are in Afghanistan. The team has footballers playing in Bangladesh, India, Thailand, United States and Indonesia. All 15 members of the squad play in different countries of Europe. In terms of strength, they are undoubtedly ahead of Bangladesh.
The FIFA rankings say the same thing. Afghanistan is in 149th position and Bangladesh is in 174th position. This difference is also reflected in the scoreline of the first leg of the two teams (1–0) on Tajik soil. Afghanistan are now third in the group with 4 points from 5 matches in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers with India. India is fourth in the group with 3 points and Bangladesh has only 1 point. Afghanistan is the third contender in the group while Qatar and Oman are the top two teams. In the third case, there is a long way to go before the next Asian Cup. To that end, they will jump with all their might to get 3 points today.
Faisal Shaista or midfielder Farshad Noor, who grew up in Holland, may be a cause for concern for Bangladesh. Bangladesh captain Jamal Bhuiyan, however, has been saying from the beginning that it is possible to win against India and Afghanistan. But in a video message given the day before the match, Jamal and coach Jamie Day called the match ‘tough’. Standing in front of the Afghan Challenge, Jamal said, “Afghanistan is physically ahead and their players are very tall. The match will be difficult for us. However, claiming to be strong in terms of strategy, the captain is confident, ‘We have some fast players. We will try to give 100 percent on the field and hopefully get 3 points in this match.
But the only victory of the Bangladesh national team with the Afghans was 42 years ago! Bangladesh won the Asian Cup qualifiers 4-1 in Dhaka in 1989. The loss to the Afghans in the last two matches is clearly holding Jamal back today. And the team that played the last game against Afghanistan is not in this team. However, Finnish-born defender Tariq Kazi is waiting for his debut. Although there is a new face in defense, the power of attack has decreased. With the exception of Nabib Newaz, Saad Uddin and Mahbubur Rahman, the new attackers are inexperienced. Newly-released forward Ibrahim was not included in the 23-man squad submitted to the Asian Football Confederation yesterday. Apart from that, no camp was held outside the country and no preparation match was played against the foreign team. The Afghans, on the other hand, camped in Dubai for 15 days. They lost to Indonesia in one of the two warm-up matches and drew with Singapore in the other.
Although the intense heat of Doha is considered an advantage for Bangladesh, it is not happening. During the match which started at 8 pm Bangladesh time, the temperature in Doha was 39-40 degrees but the temperature in the air-conditioned stadium will be kept between 23-25 degrees. ‘European’ footballers in Afghanistan are not supposed to be a problem. Doha field is also a problem for Bangladesh. The field there is moving. The loss of 5 goals to Qatar on December 4 shows how unaccustomed the Bangladeshi footballers are to play in such a field. The venue of today’s match is no exception. Bangladesh coach Jamie Day is therefore extra careful, ‘We have to give our best. If you get a chance to score, you have to use it. ‘
Jamie’s last words are real. Since the goal is the last word in football, Sumon Reza will have to use it if given the opportunity.