In early June, Uzbekistan start out on the decisive round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ with a home fixture against Iran.
However, the Uzbek capital was consumed by football fever at a much earlier date when FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter paid a visit on Wednesday 16 May 2012. The president of world football's governing body was welcomed to the city of over two million by Uzbek FA (UFF) president Mirabror Usmanov and AFC interim president and FIFA executive committee member Zhang Jilong.
After inspecting a number of event facilities, the FIFA President viewed work in progress on the Bunyodkor Stadium. The imposing 34,000-capacity arena is scheduled for completion in time for this September’s celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of football in Uzbekistan.
The stadium site also incorporates seven training pitches and an academy for 120 youths, planned and constructed in close co-operation with Spain's most successful club Real Madrid. “This is a very interesting project and an impressive feat of construction," Blatter said after touring the extensive facility.
Promoting youth talent and developing football in general has been a major focus for the UFF for some time now. In recent years, the association has constructed numerous centres of excellence and playing fields as part of an ambitious ‘Football for People’ project.
Future plans include creating a host of new playing fields in a total of 12 Uzbek regions. “We're very honoured to welcome the FIFA President and the AFC interim president, and to introduce them to our range of projects. Our priorities are development work and the promotion of talent, as we seek a successful future for football in our nation," commented Usmanov. The effort is beginning to pay off, as indicated by the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 in Mexico, where Uzbekistan qualified for the quarter-finals.
The FIFA President’s visit also took in the home grounds of AFC Champions League contenders Pakhtakor Tashkent, and Locomotive Tashkent’s recently completed new stadium.
At UFF headquarters, situated adjacent to an artificial turf pitch and a technical centre constructed a few years ago as part of FIFA's Goal project, Blatter showed great interest as he watched a youth training session, before drawing positive conclusions from his visit.
Impressed with improvements
“I'm impressed with what I've seen here. I must congratulate the association on its initiatives. It is magnificent that Uzbekistan is so clearly committed to promoting youth talent and the development of the game. Football is a school for life and should be an essential component of our society with its core values of discipline, respect and fair play.
“I wish the association every success in achieving its targets. The UFF is very well organised and boasts an outstanding infrastructure, especially in Tashkent. The quality of Uzbek football is already very high. The construction of even more playing fields throughout the country will further improve this quality and the nation’s prospects for the future."
The eventful day concluded with a meeting between the FIFA President and Uzbek state president Islam Karimov, a wholehearted supporter of the UFF initiatives.