The team heads to Virginia to compete in the Afghan Sports Federation 2011 Afghan Cup. It’s the next step after the team finished at the top of regional competition on Memorial Day weekend, when Itifaq’s men’s team, the girls open division team and the under-16 boys each took first place in their respective divisions in the 2011 Afghan Football Support Organization Cup, played in Dublin and at Cal State East Bay in Hayward.
Club president Zabi Azizpour said it’s the biggest accomplishment yet for the club, which formed in 2005. Itifaq now has teams representing 10 age groups. Honors at the AFSO Cup also included Itifaq being named the top club in Northern California.
Club leaders said the success of the men’s open and girls open teams are milestones in the club’s six-year history.
“All of these guys were 14, 15 years old (when they started) and have been practicing since 2005,” Azizpour said. “The team we beat (at the AFSO Cup) has been champion for eight, nine years, and has been champion for East and West coast. We’re going to go to the East Coast to defend the championship.”
The girls team formed before there were any other Afghan-American girls teams to compete against, which has given them an advantage as other teams formed to challenge them.
The men’s team has had tougher competition, but Azizpour said that the ever-growing success for the team has also gained recognition for players, who have been scouted by the Afghanistan National team as candidates to represent that country in international competition.
With the AFSO Cup in-hand, players said that they’re set to go after their biggest prize yet.
“We’re taking the championship there, so it’s a lot of pressure on us,” Itifaq goalkeeper Mostafa Noori said. “We have to keep the momentum going.”
He added that, even with the experience his team has, the competition has also grown in the U.S.
“I’ve been in the circle of Afghan soccer for the last 20 years. I’ve been playing since I was a little boy. Now it’s a lot bigger, with a lot more members.”
Team captain Reshad Houseymi added that while his team has other tournament titles, its goals this year are the most prestigious yet. The AFSO Cup in Hayward and Dublin was a big step.
“In this one, there were teams from all over the place, so it was a big win,” he said.
“Virginia is a much bigger cup. There are teams from many more places,” he added. “We have people from the Afghan National team, professional players from Germany, Norway, Sweden, Australia, and many players who play college in the U.S.”
“There is a lot of pressure on us, in terms of us being the champions for this cup, so people are looking for a lot from us,” Houseymi said.