Victorious Bangladesh salute Afghan bravehearts

GUANGZHOU, China: Jubilant Bangladesh cricketers saluted their vanquished rivals Afghanistan on Friday by predicting the war-torn nation will soon become a major force in the sport.

Bangladesh won their country's first ever Asian Games gold medal by ending Afghanistan's dream run with a thrilling five wicket win in the inaugural Twenty20 final.

"We are celebrating, but I hope Afghanistan will celebrate too because they deserve the silver medal," said Bangladesh coach Imran Sarwar.

"They are a very good side and I am sure they will become a top team in the near future. Their rise has been remarkable."

The Afghan bravehearts, who had stunned Pakistan by 22 runs in Thursday's semi-final, fought till the end despite being restricted to 118-8 after batting first.

Bangladesh were reduced to 75-5 by the 16th over, before the sixth-wicket pair of Naeem Islam and Mohammad Shabbir put on an unbeaten 44-run partnership to secure a memorable win.

With 19 needed off 12 balls, the pair hammered 17 runs in the penultimate over bowled by off-spinner Karim Sadeq, including two towering sixes by Shabbir, to seal Afghanistan's fate.

"This was not an easy win at all," said Sarwar. "We expected them to make around 100 or 110, but they went to 118 and then kept us under pressure till the end."

Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi said it was a miracle that cricket had prospered in his war-ravaged nation.

"The war has been going on for three decades, but we have been playing cricket there for the last 10 years despite the lack of proper facilities or grounds," he said.

"It is the passion for the game that keeps us going and cricket has caught on back home. More people are playing the game or following it on radio and TV."

Nabi said it was disappointing to lose the final, but said the silver medal had buoyed his team for the five-day Intercontinental Cup final against Scotland in Dubai from December 2.

"We want to play as much as possible, wherever possible," the captain said. "The aim is to join the big league."

Afghanistan, a non-Test playing nation, took part in the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean this year and narrowly missed qualifying for the 2011 World Cup.

Afghanistan's wily Pakistani coach Rashid Latif said he was happy the team had reached the final and promised a better show in future events.

"The aim is to be a Test nation soon and play against the best," said the former Pakistani wicket-keeper. "I want to bring youngsters into the game so the sport continues to grow in Afghanistan."

Latif said he had prepared his team for the final by narrating how India beat the all-conquering West Indies in the 1983 World Cup against all odds.

"The Indians were not as fit as their rivals, nor was their skill superior to the West Indies, yet on that day they played better and won," said Latif.

"My team here was the fittest and they had good skills too, but I warned the boys not to take Bangladesh lightly.

"The result proved me right, but I am happy we are on the right path. We will improve further if we play the big teams regularly."