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South Asians in Football Weekly: Ex-Manchester United youngster Zidane Iqbal set for AFC Asian Cup bow

Zidane Iqbal, Raj Athwal, Kira Rai, Bivesh Gurung, Millie Chandarana and Brandon Khela are among those who've had a productive start to December; our resident expert Dev Trehan brings you all the details in the latest edition of South Asians in Football Weekly

Zidane Iqbal (C) of Iraq in action during the international friendly match between Russia and Iraq on March 26, 2022 at Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Image: South Asians in Football trailblazer Zidane Iqbal in action for Iraq

The latest edition of South Asians in Football Weekly is out after another exciting week for the community in the Beautiful Game...

Former Manchester United youngster Zidane Iqbal is in line for an international recall and an AFC Asian Cup debut.

The midfielder, whose mother is Iraqi and father is Pakistani, is expected to return to the Iraq squad in time for next month's 24-team tournament, taking place in Qatar. Iraq come up against Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam in the group stages.

Iqbal left United after more than a decade with the club, joining Eredivisie side FC Utrecht in the summer, but has seen a delayed start to his career in the Netherlands due to a lingering injury.

The born and bred Mancunian has stepped up his return in the last 10 days, coming on in the home draw against AZ Alkmaar, before featuring in a 2-0 win away at Go Ahead Eagles.

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Zidane Iqbal talks to Sky Sports News' Miriam Walker-Khan about his time at Manchester United as he looked ahead to the challenge of playing in the Eredivisie for FC Utrecht

Sky Sports News revealed last year that Iqbal was due to be called up by Iraq and handed a testing international debut away at Iran.

Sky Sports News broke the story that Iqbal had made history in December 2021 when he appeared in Manchester United's Champions League game against Young Boys to become the first British South Asian to play for the club. Iqbal came on in the closing stages of the game, replacing Jesse Lingard as a late substitute.

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Raj Athwal Odisha FC Dev Trehan shirt launch Indian Super League
Image: President Raj Athwal is joined by Sky Sports News' Dev Trehan at the Odisha FC shirt launch

Odisha Football Club president Raj Athwal could not contain his delight as the Indian Super League side clinched a place in the knockout stages of the AFC Cup in their first ever appearance in the competition.

Mourtada Fall scored the winner to earn Odisha 1-0 victory over Bangladeshi side Bashundhara Kings, securing top spot in Group G and a place in the inter-zonal semi-final play-offs.

Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports News, Coventry-born Athwal said: "Naturally, it's a wonderful moment for everyone associated with the Odisha Football Club, but it's also a wonderful moment for the Indian Super League and Indian football. Huge congratulations to everyone involved."

Odisha FC president Raj Athwal speaks to Sky Sports News' Dev Trehan at the House of Lords
Image: Odisha FC president Raj Athwal speaks to Sky Sports News' Dev Trehan at the House of Lords

Maidstone United will host Stevenage in the third round of the FA Cup following Bivesh Gurung's heroics in the previous round.

Stevenage overcame Port Vale on penalties in a second-round replay on Tuesday to book their place in the next stage, and a visit to the Gallagher Stadium.

Hometown hero Gurung struck a stunning 74th-minute winner for the National League South side as they came from behind to beat Barrow 2-1 and make it through to the FA Cup third round for the first time since the club was reformed in the mid-90s.

Kira Rai, who was recognised by the Sikh Network in Parliament last week for her contribution to sport, has an East Midlands derby to look forward to after Derby County were drawn at home against Women's Super League side Leicester City in the Adobe Women's FA Cup fourth round.

Millie Chandarana's Blackburn Rovers have been drawn away at fellow Championship side Crystal Palace, with both ties taking place on January 14.

Khela: This is what I've dreamed of

Brandon Khela declared his love for Birmingham City after penning a new long-term Blues contract at the beginning of the month.

The midfielder, who became the first British South Asian ever to play league football for the club when he came on against Huddersfield in October, has played in every Birmingham City age-group side.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Cardiff City and Birmingham City.

Khela is yet to feature under Wayne Rooney, but did make the bench for the recent Championship away games at Coventry City and Cardiff City.

"I have been here longer than 10 years now," Khela said after agreeing new terms.

"It is what I have dreamed of. To be here now, it is a great place to be at.

"I have learned quite a bit [from the senior pros], just the marginal gains. Everyone is great with me, and I love coming in every single day.

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"It has been a great start under the previous manager [John Eustace]. Now I am just looking to kick on and give my all for the team and everything for the new gaffer. I am really excited."

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