HARARE, Zimbabwe — Afghanistan qualified for its second Cricket World Cup after beating Ireland by five wickets in Harare on Friday.
The Afghans made their Cricket World Cup debut in 2015, and join fellow qualifier the West Indies at the tournament next year in England and Wales.
They and the West Indies also play in the qualifying tournament final on Sunday.
Afghanistan benefited when tournament host Zimbabwe, the favorite with the West Indies to advance, choked on Thursday when it lost to associate side the United Arab Emirates.
In the decider on Friday for the last qualifying berth, Afghanistan restricted fellow new test side Ireland to 209-7 in 50 overs.
Legspinner Rashid Khan claimed 3-40 to become the fastest bowler to reach 100 one-day international wickets.
In pursuit, Afghanistan opener and man-of-the-match Mohammad Shahzad (54) and Gulbafin Naib (45) made a solid start.
Despite a middle-order scare, captain Asghar Stanikzai (39 not out) and Najibullah Zadran (17 not out) guided Afghanistan home on the first ball of the final over.
“You can see the jubilation. They deserve it,” Stanikzai said through an interpreter.
Afghanistan was fortunate to make the Super Six round-robin. In the pool stages, it beat only Nepal and lost to Zimbabwe, Scotland, and Hong Kong. But it advanced on net run rate.
In the Super Six, an opening three-wicket win over the West Indies brought the Afghans’ campaign on track.
The second lifeline was Zimbabwe’s stunning loss to the UAE, which left the winner of the Afghanistan-Ireland game with a clear path to the Cricket World Cup.
“Not a lot of people believed we could qualify from the first round,” Stanikzai said. “After the support we received back home, social media messages and all, the dream was kept alive. It was not just the dream of us the team, it was the dream of Afghanistan. I can’t even explain the joy. We want to present this gift to everyone back home.”
Ireland failed to qualify after playing at the last three Cricket World Cups.
While disappointed, captain William Porterfield was also concerned about the future of the other teams who missed out, fuelling debate about the International Cricket Council’s move to reduce the Cricket World Cup to 10 teams from 14.
“We have a lot of things on the horizon … I feel sorry for the likes of Scotland. For them to progress further is going to be hard,” Porterfield said.