SAFF: Afghanistan wants to leave on a high

From now on Afghanistan will be competing in the newly formed Central Asian Football Association (CAFA). Ranked 150 as per latest FIFA rankings, Afghanistan will be very much the underdogs in the region where Iran will be the super power.

Afghanistan coach Petar Segrt (right) has sights of his players winning the world cup one day.   -  S. Gopakumar

In professional sports, to rest on your laurels is taking a step backwards. Chances are that you will stagnate. Afghanistan has realised that it has outgrown the SAFF football championship.

From now on Afghanistan will be competing in the newly formed Central Asian Football Association (CAFA). Ranked 150 as per latest FIFA rankings, Afghanistan will be very much the underdogs in the region where Iran will be the super power.

Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are all ranked higher than Afghanistan. But Afghanistan knows very well that the only way forward for the country is to play regularly with tougher opponents.

“We've made some decision to change the future of Afghanistan football. I hope someday we develop and fulfil Afghanistan's dream and go to Asia Cup and why not the World Cup. Who says that's not possible?” asks Petar Segrt the Afghanistan coach.

“That is our dream, for the supporters, our people, and for the players. We want to be in a big tournament. And that is why we are changing federations. We see that many things we have done in the last few years were good, but we've come to a point where we want to develop more.

We need a different situation, different preparation and different opponents. This decision is not against SAFF, this is for the good future of Afghanistan football,” he says.

At every opportunity Segrt keeps repeating that his team is playing for their people back home. Football brings hope to the people in a country which is ravaged by war and where many innocent people die every day.

“We want to make millions back home happy with wins on the football field,” Segrt adds.

“Millions are watching these games back home. Every game we win, every time we play good, it makes 30 to 35 million people happy. That is important for the players. It doesn't matter where we come from, outside Afghanistan or from inside of it. We play for Afghanistan,” says Afghanistan’s captain Faysal Shayesteh.

“We've made a big step forward in the last two years and Afghanistan's football has developed every year, and we want that to continue.”

Fifteen of the 20 players in the squad play outside the country. They have made Afghans a class apart in this tournament. But the domestic structure is not too strong and the football season is just three months. The Afghanistan Football Association and coach Segrt are taking sincere efforts to help Afghanistan reach the next level.

“I took the decision to stay in Kabul. I feel any national coach should reside in the country he is contracted with. I am lucky I have a heavy security but players when they came for the first time were scared. During the photo shoot just before we came here for the SAFF Cup there was a bomb blast and I feared for the safety of the players,'' said the coach.

Irrespective of the result of the final on Sunday, Afghanistan has earned the respect and love of football fans and its rivals. Afghanistan is the big fish in a small pond that is the SAFF Suzuki Cup but it wants to leave with a bang in what will be the last appearance in the regional tournament.