Harare: Afghanistan continued their giant strides in international cricket by qualifying for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup in England with a thrilling five-wicket win against Ireland in the final Super Six encounter of qualifiers, on Friday.
Earlier, two-time World champions West Indies have already qualified for the 2019 edition as the top team.
Rashid Khan performed splendidly with figures of of 3 for 40 as Afghanistan restricted Ireland to 209 for seven before reaching the target in 49.1 overs.
Having already earned Test status, this will be Afghanistan's second successive ODI World Cup after they also featured in the 2015 edition in Australia and New Zealand, famously defeating Scotland by one wicket in Dunedin.
Afghanistan returned from the brink after having lost first three group matches but managed to qualify for the Super Six after Nepal upset Hong Kong.
After winning both their Super Six matches against the Windies and the United Arab Emirates, they received an unexpected lifeline yesterday when the UAE held their nerves to shock Zimbabwe by three runs.
Incidentally, Zimbabwe will not play a World Cup for the first time since 1983, when they made their debut in England.
Chasing a modest target of 210, Afghanistan almost made a hash of a straightforward run-chase before coasting home with five balls to spare in what turned out to be a battle of attrition.
Opener Mohammad Shahzad was named 'Player of the Match' for a brisk knock of 54.
"We lost a couple of matches but we played good cricket in the Super Sixes. We had to win this game. The plan was simple, I was looking for the loose deliveries. I did not care whether it was a spinner or fast bowler. I just went for it. I believe in myself and the senior management staff encouraged me. Today, I waited for the loose deliveries and smashed it. Let's see West Indies, we are coming," he said.
Earlier, Ireland, electing for bat first, lacked intensity and urgency as they failed to build partnerships and in the end had to be content with 209 for seven in 50 overs.
Their inability to take control of the proceedings is evident from the fact that they played a total of 174 dot balls and scored only 102 runs in the last 20 overs, including 66 runs for the loss of three wickets in the last 10 overs.
William Porterfield and Paul Stirling added 53 runs for the opening wicket in 94 balls, while the third wicket partnership between Stirling and Niall O'Brien produced 44 runs from 52 balls. The other partnership of note was between Kevin O'Brien and Gary Wilson, who added 47 runs for the sixth wicket from 45 balls.
Stirling was Ireland's top scorer with a sedate 55 off 87 balls with three fours and a six, before he was run-out.
Niall O'Brien, playing in his 100th ODI, contributed 36 off 41 with four fours and a six. Kevin O'Brien played a useful hand of less than run-a-ball 41 with three fours and a six.
Ireland captain Porterfield said his team had not got enough runs on the board.
"We were probably 25 runs short. Then again, in games like this we can't fault anyone. We had opportunities but we lost three games. We had some key moments but we could not take them. We now get back for some rest and recuperation," he said.
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