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World Cup qualifiers: Afghanistan on the brink of historic achievement

Afghanistan is on the verge of a historic achievement in football. The team, currently ranked 151st globally, is aiming to secure a place in the final phase of Asian qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup and earn a spot in the 2027 Asian Cup under the guidance of their English coach, Ashley Westwood.

Westwood, who once played for Manchester United, took charge of the Afghan team seven months ago and has overseen a remarkable transformation. On Tuesday, they face Kuwait in a crucial match, needing to outperform India’s result against Qatar to advance.

In their last game, Afghanistan held Asian champions Qatar to a 0-0 draw in Saudi Arabia, which served as their “home” venue. Reflecting on their journey, Westwood said, “When we took over in November just before the first game against Qatar, which we lost 8-1, (if) you told us that we’ll be giving ourselves a chance of qualifying with one game to go, we wouldn’t have believed it.”

He added, “The players are excited and we believe that we have a genuine chance of making history for Afghanistan in reaching the Asian Cup and third round of the World Cup qualifiers.”

India is also vying for a spot in the final qualifying stage for the first time. Igor Stimac’s team, currently tied with Afghanistan on points but ahead on goal difference, must navigate their own challenges. Following a goalless draw with Kuwait, Stimac stated, “We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves because our chances are still alive. I need to do everything in the next five days to make the boys believe they will take us into the challenge against the Asian champions.”

Meanwhile, the battle for qualification continues across Asia. China and Thailand are locked in a contest for the second spot in Group C, with China needing just a point from their game against South Korea, while Thailand hosts Singapore. Other teams like Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, and Indonesia are also striving to reach the third qualifying round for the first time, with Indonesia favored to advance as they host the Philippines, while Vietnam faces Iraq.

(Source: AFP)

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