Kelantan x Popov 2016 | #KaranganBolaSepak by Amirul Radin
Happy Belated Birthday to Coach Velizar Popov! As a Kelantan fan, we have had such a roller coaster life since 2009. Starting 2014, so much inconsistency on and off the pitch was really bad for us as fans and as The Red Warrior brand. 2016 we stated rock bottom, meaning only won a few games at the start of the season. Team has so much talent but feels like the coach then K. Devan couldn’t get the best from them.
In May 2016. Kelantan hired Velizar Popov. Who had an impressive CV coming in. He looked scary and mean but after some time. Could see that’s just how much he is passionate about football. And that translated on the pitch. Kelantan rebuilt nicely within a short space of time. Looked like he had a lot of emphasis on physical aspect and being organised. Remember like any coaching some in, mid season. They inherit squads and they only can do much. But what a job well done.
Super League finish of 4th was impressive. But disappointed we didn’t go far into the Malaysia Cup. Despite not winning that game, the 3-3 against Selangor at Stadium Shah Alam was memorable for me. A lot of hard work from the team. Blazhe Illjoski, Brendan Gan, Wander Luiz, Wan Zack, Indra, Gomis, Faris Shah were great in the Malaysia Cup run. in the quarter final against PDRM, was a stupid game. Kelantan would have won that first game 9 times of out 10!
Sadly he didn’t renew for 2017. But in that 6 month spell he made an impression with the Kelantan fans and Malaysian football. Again he may seem to be like a person you would be afraid of but gave us Kelantan fans a lot of good football as well as Malaysian fans an insight of what kind of a funny and passionate person he is! Credit to Tifo Arena for doing so!
Ali Ashfaq is Maldives’ all-time top international scorer with 53 goals
Striker has scored 14 World Cup qualifying goals in an 18-year international career
He recently returned to help the national team in their Qatar 2022 campaign
The Maldives are perhaps known globally for stunning coastal waters and luxury escapes. In the football realm, however, the island nation, with a population of less than half a million, remains an enigmatic force on the international stage.
It therefore came as a surprise when the South Asians were suddenly thrust into the global spotlight in 2013, when ace striker Ali Ashfaq was named the ‘World’s 2nd Best Top Goal Scorer’ of the year by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS).
With only goals in international and major continental club competitions taken into consideration, Ashfaq, with 23 such goals that year, trailed global leader Cristiano Ronaldo by just two, but was five goals clear of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and eight clear of Lionel Messi.
For the first time in history, a player from Maldives was being compared to the world’s top marksmen. The Maldives No7 managed to score 14 international goals that year, including a ten-goal haul as top-scorer at the 2013 SAFF Championship. At the club level, he struck nine times for New Radiant in the AFC Cup.
“It was indeed one of the best years of my career,” the 34-year-old told FIFA.com. “To be mentioned in the same breath as those great players was unbelievable for me. It was achieved through hard work by not only me, but also the team-mates of the national team as well as New Radiant.
“At New Radiant, we had a great squad under an amazing manager in Velizar Popov. We won everything on the domestic front that year,” continued Ashfaq, who scored an incredible 44 goals in all competitions for the club that season. “We won the league title with an unbeaten record and we reached the last-eight in the AFC Cup.”
From street football to national star
For most observers, Ashfaq is the best footballer Maldives has ever seen. It was, however, almost by accident that his love affair with the beautiful game commenced. Ashfaq was nine years old when his brother, Ashfan, played for a school team. There was a player missing one day and Ashfaq was asked to fill the void as a makeshift.
“That was how I started playing football and from there I began my football career,” he said recalling his early years. “I received my early training by playing with neighbouring boys – they are still my friends today and we hang out together occasionally. I was never an academy product.”
Despite his low-key background, Ashfaq maintained high hopes of a bright footballing future. In 2001, he was signed by local giants Valencia at the age of 16.
From there, Ashfaq began his remarkable journey as an unpolished diamond and became the country’s scoring great. He exploded with the capital-based club scoring over a century of goals across four seasons, before stints at a series of clubs, including Malaysian powerhouses PDRM FA. For nearly two decades, Ashfaq has remained amazingly consistent and prolific in front of goal.
At international level, Ashfaq has since scored 53 goals from 80 appearances in an 18-year international career, making him the country’s all-time top-scorer.
With exceptional speed, agility and technique, Ashfaq is renowned for his dribbling skills, and his penchant for taking the ball around opposition goalkeepers has become something of a trademark.
“Since I was young I have been obsessed with dribbling,” explained Ashfaq, a fervent Diego Maradona fan. “Dribbling past a goalkeeper gives me an added thrill and helps build my confidence as a forward.”
“I always wanted to surprise the rivals. I used to do everything with my left foot, but later I worked hard to improve my finishing with the right foot. I want to score using every means.”
His unique talents and outstanding form didn’t go unnoticed even by European giants with the likes of Benfica, Porto and Bursaspor all expressing interest. Ashfaq, however, rejected all these offers.
“I did receive offers from clubs across Europe and Asia. It was the Benfica offer which I seriously thought about. It was a chance which I should have taken because I could have played with some of the world’s best players had I joined them.”
Return to World Cup qualifying
Ashfaq is no stranger on Asia’s FIFA World Cup™ qualifying scene, having scored 14 times across multiple attempts to reach global football’s extravaganza. Two of these goals were scored last year on the road to Qatar 2022 with strikes in a 2-1 loss to Syria and in a 3-1 victory against Guam.
“You know, scoring for the national team in World Cup qualifying is so special. The FIFA World Cup is the holy grail for all footballers.
“To me, it is the ultimate dream to compete in some way relating to the World Cup, even playing in the qualifying campaign. Maldives are a small nation but we also dream big, dreams that some day we will be able to play in the World Cup.”
With two wins garnered across five outings, Maldives are trailing second-placed China PR and Philippines by just a point. Hopes of progressing as one of the best runners-up remain alive and they can secure a place among the heavyweights in Round 3 should they take maximum points from the remaining three matches.
“It is a hard group but every team, except for Guam, still have hopes. So we are not written off. If we prepare well in advance and try our best, anything can happen.”
As one of the veterans of the current Maldives squad, however, Ashfaq dismissed the idea of winding down his career. “I still feel fit. I am working twice as hard as before to maintain my form and strengths. I want to continue to play a couple more years for both club and country. Because if I don’t play football, I don’t know what I would do.”
MFF Myanmar Football Federation Eric Abrams ex-Technical Director
To Whom It May Concern:
Mr. Velizar Popov, since January 2019 appointed as the MFF U23 National Team Coach at Myanmar Football Federation and now preparing the new generation U23s for the Sea Games 2021 after a very successful Sea Games 2019 in the Philippines rewarded with a bronze medal behind finalists Vietnam and Indonesia.
When I internationally advertised the job vacancy at MFF, Mr. Velizar Popov was amongst a 100 of candidates the one, who impressed in his overall knowledge of international football and the latest tendencies. He showed a very professional way of approaching players as a coach. Having experienced in Asia different professional environments, he understands well how cultures can have impact on player and team performances and what’s the best way to lead them. His football approach is ingrained by a very positive playing philosophy, wherein possession of the ball is critical to play a good brand of football and to be successful.
Further I experienced that his way of acting is meticulous and consistent, which impacted the U23 Myanmar National Team performances very positively and guaranteed progress in every game. Important underlying factors for his achievements are his good eye for potential talented players, his game-analysis and his quality to transfer to effective practical sessions, which made the players easy to understand the objectives and applying the playing principles. Finally on the basis of the success was a clear strategy plan, taking in account all factors and good corporation with his coaching staff. Aiming the highest professional approach, he understood in the same time the limits of the MFF and always managed this in a positive way. I appreciated Velizar’s open and also positive critical mindset, which was always looking for improvement as a coach, and looking further than only the result.
I can profoundly recommend Mr. Velizar Popov as a professional coach for professional Senior Club Teams, Senior and U23 National Teams.
Charyl Chappuis-Velizar Popov is the best coach I have worked with in Thailand Premier League