By Alam Zeb Safi,
KARACHI: A top official of Afghanistan football team on Tuesday said that their team was in excellent shape and would deliver against Pakistan in the one-off friendly at Punjab Stadium, Lahore, on Friday.
“Our players are in good shape and in high spirits,” Afghanistan team manager Mustafa Mehrzad told ‘The News’ in an interview from Lahore. “I hope we have a good chance of a win against Pakistan. We have come here after a four-week practice in Kabul. Because we will be preparing for both the World Cup qualifiers and AFC Under-23 championship qualifiers so we have come here with a team which has both senior and under-23 players,” Mustafa said.
“Our youngsters are also mature as they have passed through a specific grooming stage. There is every chance that most of them will be inducted in the senior team for the World Cup qualifiers,” the official said.
Unlike Pakistan, Afghanistan have been placed directly in the second round of the World Cup qualifiers because of their better ranking.
In the Under-23 Championship qualifiers, which will be held from March 23 to 31, Afghanistan have been clubbed in Group C with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nepal and Palestine.
This will be after a gap of around 17 months that Pakistan and Afghanistan will clash. They last met on August 20, 2013, in Kabul where the hosts won 3-0. Afghanistan also have some of their key foreign-based players in their side for the showdown. “Three of our foreign-based players, Balal Arezou, Arash Hatefi and Jalaluddin, have joined us while Faysal Shayesteh from the Netherlands is expected to join us on February 5,” Mustafa, who also serves in the administration wing of the AFF, said.
The 23-year-old midfielder Faysal Shayesteh plays for Songkhla United, a club in the Thailand Premier League.
The 26-year-old striker Balal Arezou plays for Asker Football, the football department of Norwegian sports club Asker SK.
The California-born 28-year-old midfielder Arash Hatefi was part of the Mumbai FC in the 2013 Indian League. Jalal belongs to Switzerland.
The visitors will be without their skipper Zohib Islam Amiri due to injury. “Zohib is injured and has been rested for four weeks,” Mustafa revealed.
Zohib recently played in the Indian Super League (ISL) for Goa FC, being managed by Brazilian coach Zico.
The Afghan official was not happy with the pitch of the Punjab Stadium on which the friendly will be played. “The pitch is not really good. It is bumpy and it will really be a great challenge for the players to play on such surface,” Mustafa pointed out.
Afghans, who reached Lahore on Sunday, also feel uneasy because of the thick arrangements. “Although there is no such security fear and I am happy that the government has given us tight security, our players definitely face a problem because they cannot go out of the building where they are staying and this thing has disturbed them,” Mustafa said.
About joining the Central Asian Football Federation (CAFF) Mustafa said that Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) could give a better answer. “The federation can give an appropriate answer. But personally I think the CAFF nations have geographical proximity and don’t have cultural and language barriers. For instance, we and Iranians speak the same language. The football in the region is also more competitive as compared to SAFF and this would help us,” Mustafa said.
About Hossain Saleh of Iran, who is the head coach of Afghanistan, he said he was an experienced coach and his services had been hired for one year, which is extendable.
About their preparatory matches for the World Cup and Under-23 Championship qualifiers, Mustafa said that the AFF would soon unveil its plan of international matches Afghanistan teams would play ahead of the qualifiers.