Afghans bank on Barcelona-inspired style of football
Coach Skeledzic says they will exploit Lions' weaknesses
SINGAPORE v AFGHANISTAN
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 109)
They might be 5,200km away from home, but, ahead of their vital clash against Singapore in their World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier tonight at the National Stadium, Afghanistan's footballers have only one thing on their minds: win in style.
The Lions of Khorasan, as the Middle-Eastern team are nicknamed, know only three points can keep their hopes of qualifying for the next round alive.
Coach Slaven Skeledzic believes they can do it playing their Barcelona-inspired style of football.
"I have been (Afghanistan's) coach for about half a year and our philosophy is to play good football," said the Bosnian-born German, who took over the reins of the team in February.
"We don't rush the ball from behind to the forwards.
"We have good tactics to play the ball in the opponents' half.
"In our own half, it's easy to play but, in the opponents' half, it's not so easy.
"The closest (thing to Afghanistan's style) is the philosophy of Barcelona, but not at that level."
The 43-year-old, who previously coached the youth teams of German clubs Eintracht Frankfurt, Hansa Rostock, Hannover 96 and FSV Frankfurt, claimed he has scouted Singapore well.
"We know everything about Singapore," said Skeledzic.
"We know what they can do well and what we must do to win this game. We are well prepared.
"But, it is the players on the pitch who must make it happen.
"We are playing against a very good, well-organised team, but we will have our chances to win."
The coach said Singapore's strong backline was no secret, after the "sensational" 0-0 draw with Japan - the Afghans lost 6-0 to the Blue Samurai.
He named Lions left back Shaiful Esah, the team's dead-ball specialist, and striker Khairul Amri, as men to watch.
When asked how he felt his charges could exploit Singapore, Skeledzic gave a typically Barca-inspired response: press them.
"In Asia, when players are pressured on the ball, they make many mistakes," he said.
"So we must create pressure on the ball and minimise their space to play."
Afghan captain Djelaludin Sharityar echoed his coach's confidence.
The 32-year-old, who spent most of his professional career playing in the German lower leagues but now plies his trade in Bahrain, said: "The most dangerous thing, for me would be not playing our own game.
"If we stick to what we know and play to our philosophy, it will be easier for us."
Afghanistan did not play any international games from 1984 to 2002 but, since they returned to the fold, they have steadily climbed the world rankings, from a low of 200 in 2004 to a high of 140 in 2013, when they also won the South Asian Football Federation Cup for the first time in their history.
They are currently ranked 150, seven rungs higher than Singapore.
"Our philosophy is to do better every time," said Skeledzic.
"Japan are the best team in the group, and it is likely they will go to the next round. The other teams are fighting for second place.
"So we must win all our remaining games, apart from Japan, to have a little chance to go to the next round.
"So it's clear we must win tomorrow. A draw is no good."