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SAFF Cup: For Afghans, football is more than just winning titles

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SAFF Cup: For Afghans, football is more than just winning titles

Football is not just a game for Afghanistan, but it represents hope for 32 million people in a war-torn country. For people living a life in fear, their football team’s success presents them with a rare opportunity to celebrate. No wonder, Afghanistan’s bid to defend the SAFF Cup title in Thiruvananthapuram will be keenly followed back home.
The man who has been handed the responsibility of guiding Afghanistan to their second successive SAFF Cup success is Croatian-born German coach Petar Segrt. When he took charge of the team, Segrt insisted that he would stay in the country to shape the future of football in Afghanistan. “I knew it was a big risk to take, but if I wanted to develop football in Afghanistan I had to stay in the country and understand the football being played there and its culture,” said Segrt. But five weeks into his tenure, Segrt has realized that his job is a lot more complicated than he would have initially expected. It’s not just the war and internal conflict in the country that is giving him sleepless nights but the absence of a proper football league that’s bothering him to no end. “Afghanistan’s football league is just a two month affair. In every other part of the world, you have two months rest and ten month’s of football, Afghanistan has ten months of rest and two months of football. The problem with Afghanistan is that there are many places in the country where certain citizens are prohibited from travelling and this is applicable to the footballers also. How can we develop football in such a situation?” asked the 49-year old, who is ever eager to shield his players from the prying eyes of the media. Afghanistan have brought a jumbo 28-member squad for the SAFF Cup. Of them, 18 play in various leagues in Europe. The coach has included 10 footballers who ply their trade in Afghanistan in his squad though he is aware that they are not in the same class as the players who are playing in European leagues.
 But the coach says his decision to include them was because he wanted to show them that life is not all about war and fighting. “I am here not to win this title, but I want to give the Afghan people new hope through football. And that’s why I included these ten players. Football is not always about winning. It’s much beyond that,” Segrt reasoned.
 Despite their woes, Afghanistan are the highest ranked team in the tournament with a Fifa ranking of 150 and the coach sees a valid reason for it. “Because Afghanistan have great talent,” he said.        
       Monitoring Desk