By Nilanjan Datta,
AIFF Media Team
DOHA, QATAR: Former Afghanistan captain Haroon Amiri is back at the centre of the Afghanistan defence after an injury kept him out for a couple of years. A day prior to India's last league match against Afghanistan in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers in Doha, the sturdy defender, who has had club stints in India for over a decade, opened up about his Indian friends, the current Afghanistan squad, wonder-boy Hossein Zamani, and much more, can’t wait for the match against India to kick-off. EXCERPTS:
Most of the boys in Afghanistan play their football in professional leagues in Europe and the US. Why did you stick to playing in India all these years?
I have had offers from the middle east, and also parts of Asia. But I never wanted to come out of my comfort zone. I have already settled down in India, and whichever city I play in, I cherish it. Going to another country will require myself to devote time to learn the language, culture, adapt to the food and a lot of other stuff – there will always be new challenges.
I am aware of the Indian culture, celebrate Indian festivals, love the food, speak the same language, watch the movies, hang around with my Indian friends, and am extremely proud of having been in India. I am welcomed everywhere and have been lucky to have made good buddies over the years.
Tell us about the Afghanistan players who play abroad.
The current squad is a conglomeration of experience and youth. There are a lot of youngsters in the squad. All of the players play their professional club football outside Afghanistan – in Germany, USA, Poland, Denmark, Sweden and even Australia.
There’s been a lot of talk about winger Hossein Zamani.
He is just 18-year old and is an exceptional talent. He has represented The Netherlands at the youth level but has opted to play for Afghanistan. Zamani is at the Ajax Academy and has already generated a lot of interest among big clubs in Europe including Manchester United. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to play a part in the two matches so far as he has been suffering from a stomach ailment. We expect him to take the field in our last match against India.
What is the mood in the Afghanistan camp?
All the boys are very positive and we expect a very good match. We feel we were a bit unlucky in our last match against Oman. A match against India is always special – the entire country is looking forward to this match, as much we all are. In fact, we can’t wait for it to kick-off. I am sure, the Indian boys are feeling the same.
How do you rate India as a team?
They are a good team. There has been a lot of change in the squad with so many youngsters coming in. We have noticed that the current coach also has implemented a philosophy of playing differently. India has had some good results in the recent past. We watched their match against Qatar with 10-men where it was hard to break them down. There will be a healthy competition when the two teams meet. The mentality of playing for your club and country are entirely different.
Did you get to meet your Indian friends at the hotel?
I met them at the hotel gym. One day they were waiting outside for us to finish our session, and another day, we waited outside as the Indian players were finishing their session. We had a nice chat with Sandesh, Sunil, Amrinder Singh –all of them have hearts of gold.