Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai dedicated his team's win over Ireland "to all the people of Afghanistan back home who supported us". Afghanistan's five-wicket victory over Ireland in the final Super Six match of the World Cup qualifying tournament secured their place at the 2019 World Cup in England.
"I can't express how happy they will be back home," said Stanikzai. "Because everyone likes and supports this game back home. We didn't even have a 10% chance to qualify after the first round, but after some support from people back home, the prayers of the people of Afghanistan, all the messages we received, all the messages on social media, it was not just the dream for our guys, but it was the dream of all Afghanistan as well. I can't express how important it was for us, and for Afghanistan, to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. We especially want to dedicate this game to all the people of Afghanistan back home who supported us."
"It was the dream of every senior player to qualify for the World Cup, because they knew it may be their last World Cup," said Stanikzai. "So it was a dream for them, and it's come true. You can see the joy in their celebrations, and they deserve it, the way they played. We are very happy."
Afghanistan made a disastrous start to the qualifying tournament, losing their group games to Scotland, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong. They were without the belligerent presence of Mohammad Shahzad at the top of the order and behind the wicket after he was handed a two-match suspension after falling foul of the match referee during Afghanistan's defeat to Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. They were also without their captain, Stanikzai, who had to undergo an emergency appendectomy soon after the squad's arrival in Zimbabwe. Stanikzai said that his side were no strangers to hardship, or to the come-from-behind campaigns that have marked their ascent in world cricket.
"If you look at the history of Afghanistan in qualifying tournaments, in the beginning we have struggled in the initial rounds of previous tournaments as well," said Stanikzai. "This time unfortunately I got an operation for appendicitis, and I was much needed by the team, but in the second round I came back, the morale was up, and they knew, really knew, how important each game was for us. We had, somehow, hope. Especially before the UAE-Zimbabwe game. After that game, we knew our chances were increased, and now we've done it. I'm really happy with how the guys bounced back, it's a great achievement. "
Stanikzai returned to lead the side to a win over UAE earlier this week, and played a vital hand today with a quickfire 39. He reached the boundary repeatedly in his innings, despite being in obvious discomfort following his operation.
"I'm not feeling that well, not 100%. I only had my operation two weeks ago. I still feel pain inside, especially when I was playing big shots. It was very hard for me to control. But this is us, we are the youngsters, we have to fight and sacrifice for our country. And that's what we did. And I have done it. When the country needs me, I will be there. I will forget about the pain or whatever, the operation, and I'm proud that I have done this, my little contribution to my country."
Afghanistan's win today ensured that they will take part in their second World Cup, but Stanikzai insisted that participation alone was no longer enough for his quickly developing team.
"We would like not only to participate in the World Cup, but to perform and to even beat more countries because we're not an Associate any more. Now we have to win because the higher you go, the higher the expectation.
"Definitely we will accept that challenge."