Afghanistan picks S.J. State's Samy for qualifiers

Yousef Samy walked at San Jose State in 2006 and was voted the Spartans' "Newcomer of the Year" by his teammates. A year later, he is off to represent Afghanistan, beginning Monday, in World Cup 2010 qualifying.

The American-born Samy is following in the footsteps of his father, Rahmat, who played for the Afghanistan national team in the 1970s.

"This is an honor to me," said Samy.  "I get to play for my country and for the same team my father played on when he was my age.  It takes years to build a national team to the level of competition that we're going to be facing.  I know we're not going to be the best team, we might even lose really bad.  I'm not going into this thinking that we're going to win the World Cup, but I hope this is going to be the beginning of something that will help create youth programs and get them to play at a more competitive level."

Soccer has a long tradition in Afghanistan. It finished fourth in the 1951 Asia Games and entered Asian Cup qualifying until the mid-1980s.

Under the Taliban, though, soccer suffered as religious fanatics forced players to wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts and often pray at halftime. Kabul's main soccer stadium was often the scene of summary executions in front of cheering mobs.

Afghanistan reintroduced its national team program after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but it was disbanded because many of its players sought asylum abroad.

Afghanistan entered World Cup qualifying for the first time in 2003, but it lost to Turkmenistan, 11-0 and 2-0. The second game was played in Kabul -- the Afghanis' first home game in 44 years.

Afghanistan has entered a team in World Cup 2010 qualifying that begins Monday against Syria, and it includes players from Australia, Germany and the United States.

Samy, who has played in six games for San Jose State this season, is one of three players from California.

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