By Amoy Ghosal (Sportskeeda)
After 11 days and 15 matches, the 2013 SAFF Championship is over with Afghanistan emerging as champions. Here are those who impressed the most and made it into the team of the tournament.
Goalkeeper: Mansur Faqiryar (Afghanistan)
Besides the five games involving the two lowest-ranked teams of the competition, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, there were only 17 goals in the other 10 matches. So it isn’t a surprise that a goalkeeper was adjudged Most Valuable Player. The Afghans’ German-based custodian Faqiryar kept 3 clean sheets in 4 games, with his showing against Nepal in the semi-final being the best of the lot. Faqiryar showed great reflexes against the hosts throughout the game and made up for giving away the penalty by stopping it twice. In the final too, the 27-year-old was at his very best and inspired his nation to their first ever SAFF success.
Right-back: Mustafa Hadid (Afghanistan)
The full-back got better as the tournament progressed with the final against India being his best performance. Hadid didn’t get too many opportunities to get forward against Nepal and had to defend very well despite having an injury on his hand. In the final, he profited from Afghanistan’s quick transitions as he overlapped at every opportunity and played his part in the opening goal. Hadid also did a good job defensively as he won several balls in the air and didn’t allow too many crosses to come in from India’s left side.
Centre-back: Haroon Fakhruddin Amiri (Afghanistan)
In the absence of two first-choice centre-backs, including regular national team captain Djelaludin Sharityar, Amiri was used in central defence, but despite playing out of position he was consistent throughout the tournament. The Mumbai FC man didn’t have too many problems against Bhutan and Sri Lanka, but really had to step up in final group game with Maldives before leading by example in the semi-final against Nepal. In the final, the 2013 FPAI (Football Players Association of India) Fans’ Player of the Year gave another mature display against India. He also got on the score-sheet against Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Centre-back: Zesh Rehman (Pakistan
Arguably the most high-profile player ever to have played in this competition, Zesh gave three outstanding performances and was highly unlucky not to play in the knockout stages. Some sections of the Pakistan media had criticised the former Fulham defender for not performing for the national team, but the Birmingham-born defender proved his critics wrong by being a towering presence in Pakistan’s defence. He started in defensive midfield against India and couldn’t show his best qualities, but in the next game against Nepal, Zesh was the reason why Pakistan didn’t concede an equaliser until stoppage time. Pakistan and the rest of the sub-continent would be hoping to see him in action at SAFF 2015 also.
Left-back: Rabin Shrestha (Nepal)
Rightly adjudged as Nepal’s best player of the tournament, Shrestha was not only the best left back of the competition, but also the most consistent full-back. The 22-year-old was sound defensively as he very rarely allowed a wide midfielder to get past him. But Shrestha impressed more going forward as he looked comfortable in possession, a quality rarely seen among defenders of South Asia. He directly assisted Nepal’s second goal against India and played his part in many other promising attacks of the hosts throughout the tournament.
Right Midfield: Francis Fernandes (India)
India hardly had any consistent performers in this tournament, but wide midfielder Francis Fernandes stood out. The Salgaocar man didn’t get any direct assists and would be disappointed not to have gotten a goal, but he created plenty of chances for his team and worked extremely hard in the four matches that he featured in. His absence due to a calf injury in the group game against Nepal was felt badly, as India lost 2-1, and could have easily had some assists had his team’s finishing been more clinical. After this showing, Francis deserves to become a mainstay of the national team.
Central Midfield: Mohammed Rafi (Afghanistan)
The youngster was one of the unsung heroes of SAFF 2013 champions Afghanistan as he kept producing consistent displays in the middle of the park without doing anything spectacular. He did make headlines for scoring directly from a corner against Sri Lanka and that was one of the most vital moments of Afghanistan’s campaign as they were trailing 1-0. Rafi’s passing and awareness in midfield was vital for Afghanistan’s attacks and he also did a great job tracking back to help out his defence. Rafi was undoubtedly one of the best central midfielders of the tournament.
Central Midfield: Mohammed Arif (Maldives)
Arif produced three powerful displays from midfield in the group games and although Ali Ashfaq made the headlines, it was this 28-year-old who kept the island nation ticking by linking defence and attack. The highly experienced medio wasn’t allowed to have an influence in the semi-final against India and that just shows how important he is for Maldives. Arif did an excellent job closing down opponents and used his left foot at every opportunity to open up the opposition. Although offensively he didn’t have much impact against India, Arif’s physical presence stopped Wim Koevermans’ side from creating clear cut chances in open play.
Left Midfield: Bharat Khawas (Nepal)
Although the local media was a little critical of his performances, Khawas in truth couldn’t have done any better at SAFF 2013. The 21-year-old showed great stamina in all the four matches that he featured in and was highly versatile as he did well upfront and on both flanks. Khawas finished his only goal of the tournament clinically against Bangladesh and was always a lively character on the pitch for the hosts. The Nepal Army Club player did more than a decent job on the left wing whenever he was asked to play there and could have had a couple of assists against Afghanistan in the semi-final, had his teammates converted or got on the end of his crosses.
Centre-forward: Sanjar Ahmadi (Afghanistan)
The Germany-based striker had been more prolific than the experienced Balal Arezou leading up to the tournament, but failed to get on the scoresheet during the group stage. However, the 21-year-old still had a presence in attack and kept getting into good positions in all three group games. He found his scoring boots in the knockout stage and scored in both the semi-final and final. In both games Ahmadi showed great predatory instincts to be at the right place and right time. Besides the goals too, the youngster showed immense work rate and troubled the opposition centre-backs by running the channels.
Centre-forward: Ali Ashfaq (Maldives)
His inclusion in this team might come across as a bit ironic considering he only performed in two games after the opposition was reduced to ten. But ten goals in two games is a great return at any level of football and it also won him the top scorer accolade for the very first time in the SAFF Championship. Ashfaq also broke three individual records – most goals in one SAFF Championship game, most goals in one edition and most goals in the tournament’s history. But all that possibly won’t matter to him much as he doesn’t have the SAFF 2013 winners’ medal to show for it. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t present to receive the highest scorer award on Wednesday.