Migration, talent and challenges: Afghanistan’s European-based football players in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers’

For South Asian countries, their native football players playing in European clubs have always been an area of interest. In India, one talks about Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) like Yan Dhanda and Michael Chopra. In Bangladesh, speculations about Leicester City midfielder Hamza Choudhury joining the Bangladesh national team made many headlines. On the Indian side, Bhaichung Bhutia played for Bury FC (currently Bury AFC) in League Two in England and Sunil Chhetri spent a short stint with the Sporting Lisbon B team.

Migration, talent and challenges: Afghanistan’s European-based football players in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers’

During the 2023 SAFF Championship, RevSportz wrote an article focusing on the Pakistan national team and how most of their players are part of club football in Europe. As the Indian football team is set to take on Afghanistan in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers in Saudi Arabia on March 22, a similar situation has arisen. The Afghanistan team is full of footballers who ply their trade at European clubs.

Migration

To start with, Afghan goalkeeper, Owais Azizi plays for Danish side, Hillerød. He was recently promoted to the top level. Defender Mossaver Ahadi plays football for HIFK, which competes in the Finnish second division.

Attacking midfielder, Mustafa Azadzoy is plying his trade in Germany. He plays for fourth division team Atlas Delmenhorst. Another midfielder, Taufi Skandari, is currently playing for Faroese top tier club, B36 Tórshavn.

23-year-old attacking midfielder Yama Sherzad plays for Bern-based Swiss team FC Breitenrein Bern, who are on the verge of promotion to the third division. Forward Belal Arezzo is another player competing for Norway. His club IF Tromsø plays in the Norwegian fourth division.

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If observed carefully, all the players are either playing in lower division club football in Europe, mainly in the Scandinavian belt. Some others are part of East Asia – Indonesia and Maldives. Haroon Amiri, who is currently playing in Canada, is a well-known name in Indian football. He had worked with top Indian teams like Dempo and Real Kashmir for a long time in the past.

Does this mean that the Afghanistan team is full of experienced players who rub shoulders with European footballers all year round? The situation is that most of these players have migrated to these countries as refugees and started playing in the academy system there.

For example, goalkeeper Azizi was born in Afghanistan and lost his father and grandparents during the Afghan Civil War. Seeking safety, his mother and four siblings took refuge in Iran. In 2001, Azizi was granted refugee status in Denmark, where he pursued a career in football as well as occupational therapy.
Defender Mosawar Ahadi was born in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan but grew up in Finland.

He has also represented the Finland U17 and U18 national sides, another tale of an early stay. The attacker, Medio Yama, who is originally from Afghanistan, fled to Switzerland with his family in 2006. He began his football journey in the academies of clubs based in the canton of Bern in 2009, before transferring to the Thun academy in 2011.

Belal Arezzo was born in Afghanistan, but as a refugee in his youth he fled to Norway and started playing for the Norwegian club’s academy team Senja.

When the Pakistan national team participated in SAFF 2023, one noticed that there was not much help from the players from European clubs as most of the players did not play together and there was a lack of coordination. There is a possibility of a similar situation happening here also. In November 2023, around 18–20 players boycotted the Afghanistan national team due to corruption in the federation and national league and many of them did not withdraw the boycott.

It is surprising to see that the national team is filled with players who are not part of the national league. The Afghanistan Champions League, formerly the Afghan Premier League, is the national league. It consists of 12 clubs, but the national leagues receive little attention when creating the national team.

For coach Ashley Westwood, building a team of footballers scattered from different parts of Europe is a difficult task. It is believed that they will get material benefits from the stadium in Abha city. One notable thing worth mentioning is that the Afghan side consists mostly of young talent, most of whom are under 30.

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The two senior candidates, Zohaib Amiri and Sharif Mukhammad, are expected to add some valuable information about Indian football. Both of these players have a proven track record in Indian football, having won consecutive I-League with Gokulam Kerala.

But with a much more organized team, coach Igor Stimac is expected to secure victory in Saudi Arabia and move closer to the third round of the FIFA 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

Special mention to 16-year-old Afghan winger Amin Nabizada, who was recently included in the Afghanistan squad. A rising star, Amin has impressed for the Watford reserves, scoring seven goals and has previously showcased his talents at Brentford. It will be an exciting prospect to keep an eye on if the former Bengaluru FC player plays with him that day.

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