Holland-trained Faysal is Afghanistan's hope
Playmaker Faysal grew up in Holland and now plies his trade in Thailand
He will be the man looking to sink Singapore in tomorrow's World Cup Group E qualifier at the National Stadium.
However, had it not been for a life-altering moment when he was a child, things could have turned out very differently for Afghanistan's talented playmaker, Faysal Shayesteh.
As a one-year-old, with his country embroiled in a civil war, his parents decided Faysal and his older brother should move to Holland.
The brothers managed to escape the conflict and carve out new lives, with Faysal falling in love.
Soon he was working hard as he chased the dream to turn professional and had spells at the academies of Eredivise outfits Twente and Heerenveen.
The 24-year-old now plays in Thailand's second-tier Division 1 League with Songkhla United, a world away from the kind of life he was destined for all those years ago in Afghanistan.
Speaking to The New Paper after the team's training session last night at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium, Faysal says their country is always on the minds of the players whenever they pull on the national jersey.
"Football is the biggest sport in Afghanistan at the moment," he said.
"Every game the national team play, millions of Afghans are watching all over the world, including at home. And each win brings a smile to so many people.
"After the situation with the war and everything, the people are very happy when they see us performing and bringing the name of Afghanistan to a higher level.
"We are not only playing for our team, we are playing on behalf of the entire country."
The Afghans did not have the best of starts in Group E, with an unconvincing 1-0 triumph over Cambodia sandwiched by 6-0 defeats by Syria and Japan.
Still, coach Slaven Skeledzic claims his charges have not been as bad as results suggest and warned they will be more than ready for the battle with the Lions.
"Yes," he replied, when asked if the Lions would underestimate his team at their own peril.
"We know everything there is to know about Singapore… where they are good and where our chances of winning the game are.
"The most important thing now is to bring this onto the pitch.
"To be honest, apart from the game against Japan, I think we have performed very well and managed to play to our philosophy for about 85 to 90 per cent in our matches.
"Similarly, we have a plan to deal with Singapore and I hope the players can put into effect everything we are doing on the training ground."
Given the World Cup qualifiers are now held in conjunction with qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup, all is not lost even for the teams that finish outside the top two in each group.
The remaining sides can still find themselves in the running to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup, either through the third qualifying round or the play-offs.
With plenty still to play for, Faysal - who usually plays as an out-and-out striker when on international duty - knows how important tomorrow's match is.
Said the Songkhla star: "It's a very important game because, if we lose it, it's going to be very difficult for us.
"Obviously, aiming to qualify for the World Cup is unrealistic. It's crucial to finish third and keep alive your chances of qualifying for the Asian Cup, and that's our target right now."
Every game the national team play, millions of Afghans are watching all over the world, including at home. And each win brings a smile to so many people.
— Afghan attacker, Faysal Shayesteh
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