New Delhi [India], May 6 (ANI): Former Afghanistan captain Zohib Islam Amiri, who played for Gokulam Kerala FC in the I-League 2019-20, has said the COVID-19 pandemic came as a big setback to the national side as the match against India in Kolkata was postponed.
Afghanistan was slated to play India in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers in Kolkata on June 9 but football's elite governing body FIFA and Asian Football Federation (AFC) proposed postponing all the upcoming 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup Cup qualifiers due to the rising threat of coronavirus.
"All of us were thrilled when Kolkata was announced as the venue for the match between India and Afghanistan. As soon as the announcement was made, all the boys in the team started asking me what playing in Kolkata is like," the All India Football Federation quoted Amiri as saying.
"I kept on telling them that it is one of the best cities to play football in -- the ground is excellent and the stadium is going to be full of spectators, which will make it a memorable occasion," he added.
However, the midfielder is looking forward to playing in India and meet his friends whenever the tie gets rescheduled.
"We had everything ready in place and were looking forward to coming to India and play. But unfortunately, the match got postponed. We were heartbroken. However, all of us are looking to play in India once the game is rescheduled. I am looking forward to meeting and facing my Indian friends again," said Amiri.
He is a popular figure in Indian football circles, having played for a number of clubs across the country since his arrival in 2011. He fondly referred to India as 'his second home' and talked about adapting to Indian culture.
"I can gladly call India as my second home. I have spent a large part of my life in India and have completely loved it. Having arrived in a new country as a youngster, I have loved every second of my journey here -- the culture, the people and the food. I started in Mumbai. Then moved to Goa and then to other places. I have a lot of good memories in every city and every club that I have played," he said.
It was in 2005 that Amiri made his debut with the Afghanistan senior national team and since then he has been a part of many encounters between India and Afghanistan -- including the most recent FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying match between the two teams in Dushanbe in November last year, which ended 1-1.
With lockdown enforced across India, Amiri also talked about his routine at home and how he is keeping himself fit while remaining indoors.
"As professionals, we have to stay healthy and in shape. It doesn't matter whether you have a ground or not. We have to train and keep ourselves busy. We can do different types of exercises such as squats, push-ups, hamstring and core exercise indoors, in order to remain in shape," he said.
India is already out of World Cup contention after failing to win a single match in their group so far. India was scheduled to play 2022 tournament host Qatar in Bhubaneswar on March 26, which was postponed owing to COVID-19, followed by matches against Bangladesh and Afghanistan in June. (ANI)