English lessons boost Uzbeks

The best football coaches make the right decisions and, for Akhmad Ubaydullaev, his choice to leave Pakhtakor eight years ago to take up a position at the Chighatoy Youth Football Academy in Tashkent has proved to be a very good one indeed. Since then, Ubaydullaev has led his country to the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals; a feat which more established Asian sides such as Japan and Saudi Arabia failed to achieve this time around.

Yet Uzbekistan's qualification for Egypt 2009 was no overnight success, but the product of hard work stretching back to 2002, when he began to identify the players he thought could flourish in the future. Now, after a prolonged period of hard work from the coaches and the players themselves, the rewards are beginning to come on the international stage.

"Football is the most popular sport in Uzbekistan and we're continually trying to develop it - a lot of things are being done to try and make the game progress and they are bearing fruit," the Uzbekistan coach told FIFA.com.

In the past, I only used to watch Spanish or Italian football, but now I'm only watching the English teams, such as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Akhmad Ubaydullaev, Uzbekistan coach.

"It's taken seven years to bring this team together. The first thing that we looked for was ability and we looked at how quick they were. We looked at how well developed they were physically and, of course, their mentality. I need my teams to work well as a unit, but I also like it when they counter-attack. It's important that they move themselves and the ball quickly."

The central Asians qualified for Egypt in dramatic style, overcoming China in a penalty shoot-out in the quarter finals of the AFC U-19 Championship, despite having goalkeeper Doniyorjon Usmonov dismissed in the final minute of extra time, leaving full-back Murod Khalmukhamedov to face a penalty-shoot-out. The defender duly emerged as the hero, saving the decisive spot-kick to send his team through to the world finals.

"I was delighted that my players overcame a very tough situation to qualify, but now our aim is to try and qualify from the group stages," smiled Ubaydullaev. "We played six games against China over a period of 12 months and as time went by, we performed better and our confidence grew. When it mattered, we beat them."  

The draw pitted the Ubeks against Ghana, Uruguay and England in Group D - a difficult section indeed - which made Ubaydullaev embark on a rigorous preparatory programme, which included training camps in Qatar, Germany and Spain. Yet it was a visit to England in August, which proved to be the most inspirational for the coach.

"While we were in England I gained a fuller appreciation of the English style of play, and how different it is to our own," he continued. "I also saw how the players had developed, both physically and mentally, and how they were able to stand up to it.

"Although we have two games to go before we meet them, I'm expecting England to be a difficult side to play against, as they have pace - and I know that they will battle for every ball from the first whistle to the last. I admire that. In the past, I only used to watch Spanish or Italian football, but now I'm only watching the English teams, such as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur."

And, as luck would have it, Uzbekistan now find themselves in the same hotel as the Three Lions in Ismailia, which has enabled Ubaydullaev and his coaching staff to take a closer look at how England conduct themselves, on and off the training pitch. The Asians are enjoying their English education, but hope to teach them a few lessons of their own when teams meet in Suez next Friday.