The inaugural Airmarine Cup 2019 is set to be hosted by Malaysia with Oman, Singapore and Afghanistan being the other three nations in the tournament.
When the tournament was awarded to Malaysia on 25th February, Solomon Islands were scheduled to be the fourth team after Oman and Singapore. However, as it turned out, they had to withdraw from the competition and the Football Association of Malaysia invited Afghanistan to replace them.
While Singapore are a very well-known side to the Malaysian fans, Oman are one of the better Asian sides and made it to the round of 16 of the recently concluded AFC Asian Cup. The fans, though, might not know what to expect from Afghanistan despite this being their second visit to the country in three years.
The Central Asian side visited Malaysia in 2016 and played out a 1-1 draw. The match was played as a part of Harimau Malaya’s preparation for the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2016.
What to expect from the Afghan Lions?
Afghanistan Airmarine Cup 2019: What to expect
The core of the Afghanistan side is made up of players plying their trade in the lower rungs of European football. They have players playing in top European countries like England, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Netherlands along with Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Cyprus, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh and Australia.
Players like midfielder Maziar Kouhyar, who plays for Walsall in League One in England and Noor Husin, who plays for the League Two side Notts County, will be crucial for their chances in the competition.
Afghanistan have two players who are well-versed with the Malaysian Super League as well. While striker Mustafa Zazai is still playing in the league, for Kelantan, playmaker Faysal Shayesteh spent a season with Pahang before moving on to greener pastures.
Moreover, they are the second best-ranked team in the tournament. While Oman lead the way as they are 90th in FIFA Rankings, Afghanistan are 147th followed by Singapore who are 165th and hosts Malaysia who are on the 167th spot.
They are physically and technically good: Tan Cheng Hoe
Malaysia’s national team coach Tan Cheng Hoe revealed that he did observe the Afghan Lions during the AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers, terming them a physically and technically good side.
“I observed a few Afghanistan matches during the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers. They are physically and technically good. We know that many of the Afghan players are playing in leagues in Europe,” he said.
Afghanistan will face Oman in their opening match of the tournament on 20th March at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium. The 3rd/4th place match and the final will be played on 23rd March.
You can follow all the LIVE action from the Airmarine Cup 2019 on FOXSportsAsia.com.
(Image Courtesy: Afghanistan Football Federation)