The Daily Star (TDS): How was the SAFF U-18 Championship for you?
Jafar Iqbal (JI): It could have been better had we become champions. However it was a good tournament for all of us as we learnt a lot and gathered a lot of experience which will help us in future. As a team we did not get enough international exposure before, but this time we experienced how to react according to match situations. A strong comeback against India despite going down 3-0 was something different for us and it will inspire us to go forward in future. The key to the comeback was to play pressing football which is being installed by Andrew Ord.
TDS: Why did you take off your jersey after scoring the first goal against Bhutan?
JI: I was initially not considered for the playing eleven against Bhutan. As per the initial plan, I was not supposed to feature if Bangladesh got early goals. I felt bad about it because I had a personal target against Bhutan as I sat on the dugout and watched the senior team lose 1-3 against Bhutan in the Asia Cup Qualifying play-off last year. That defeat hurt me. When I was given the opportunity, I played with full concentration and took off my number-10 jersey to show the Bhutanese spectators that we can also score goals and made them remember that match.
TDS: You have played for the senior team, the Olympic team and the under-18 team. What difference did you find playing in three different teams?
JI: I was the youngest player (17 years old) in the senior team and my effort was to cement my place whenever I was given the opportunity. In the U-23 team, I was called despite suffering from Chigunguniya. In U-18 team though, we played far better football compared to the Olympic team because there was good team spirit and all members had a bond like family members. One helped another to get rid of problems and was willing to give hundred percent on the pitch. Our target was to become champions.
TDS: Jafar Iqbal is now a well-known name after the SAFF U-18 Championship. How do you feel about it?
JI: It is always a good feeling when you are getting recognised in football fraternity but I want to keep my performance consistent at any level and at any competition. I try to give best whether it is for the senior team or age-group team.
TDS: You don't often get goals in domestic competitions. How did you change that fortune in international matches?
JI: I am a hard-worker and I always do individual practice in my district as I do not get the opportunity to have individual practice in club training. I am also not a genuine striker as I play as left-forward or a right-forward but my target is to score goals whenever I take the field. I was the top-scorer in third and second division football leagues before scoring five goals for Arambagh KS in last edition's Bangladesh Premier League.
TDS: You are now a player of league leaders Chittagong Abahani, but you don't often get your chance in the starting eleven. Does it hurt you?
JI: To be honest, I joined Chittagong Abahani with a specific target and I don't want to reveal my target at the moment. I have no regrets for not getting chance in starting eleven, instead I am happy that Chittagong Abahani team are getting results regularly and are on top of the league. But I will always try to give my hundred percent when the coach picks me in the starting eleven.
TDS: Does Jafar Iqbal have any shortcomings on the field?
JI: I have regrets about my height but I try to score goals with headers. I scored two goals from headers in Bhutan. I still believe I can improve in areas such as skill, speed, control, passing because I did not get proper basic training in my developmental stage. However, I am learning a lot from Saiful Bari Titu sir. [Syed Golam] Jilani sir also contributed a lot.
TDS: How did you start playing football?
JI: I always loved playing football but my parents did not permit me. But I continued to play football with seniors at the district stadium by sneaking out of home. I initially dreamt of playing for the national age-group teams such as U-14s and U-16s but I didn't draw much attention. It was a dream-come-true when I was called for the senior team at the age of 17 after playing just five matches for Arambagh KS.
TDS: What is your ultimate goal in football?
JI: Playing better in SAFF U-18 Championship is not the end rather it is the beginning and I want to play in bigger leagues beyond the boundary.