ICC Twenty20 World Cup Qualifiers
Afghanistan, Ireland Favourites in Twenty20 World Cup Qualifiers11-Mar-2012 14:23:00 GMT
Dubai: Two years ago, Afghanistan was the surprise package of the Twenty20 World Cup cricket qualifying tournament. Now it is the team to beat.
The defending champion is the top seed at the 16-team tournament which begins Tuesday. But it is likely to face a stiff challenge from Ireland, which it beat by eight wickets in the 2010 qualifying final. Other teams including the Netherlands and Kenya are also aiming to reach the finals and a ticket to the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka from September 18 to October 7.
The shorter format should also offer plenty of opportunities for upsets with the likes of seventh-seeded Namibia, 16th-seeded Nepal and even the 15th-seeded United States looking to emulate the success of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan was the feel-good story of cricket when it won the 2010 qualifying tournament and was granted first-class status until 2013.
Afghan captain Nawroz Mangal said he is optimistic about the team's chances after it brought back former Pakistan bowler Kabir Khan as coach, and fielded line-up that features fast bowlers Hamid Hassan, Dowlat Zadran and Zamir Khan in the squad.
Ireland is a much more experienced side from the one that knocked out Bangladesh in 2009 to reach the Super 8 stage of the tournament, but failed to advance beyond the group stages in 2010. It is returning several players from the 2010 squad including Kevin O'Brien, who matched the quickest World Cup century last year in a stunning defeat of England.