Karimov dreams of world return
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There has been a conundrum surrounding Uzbekistan captain Sherzodbek Karimov during the FIFA U-20 World Cup. In the past, Uzbek fans have previously been used to seeing the 20-year-old play on the wing to great effect. However, in this tournament, coach Ahkmad Ubaydullaev has preferred to utilise him in a more central playmaking role, giving him licence to push the team forward and go for goal.

But what is his best position? The 20-year-old sat down for a chat with FIFA.com at the team hotel during Egypt 2009 and gave an answer that was nothing if not honest. "I enjoy playing in any position but I have to admit I don't like to defend," he laughed.

"I like playing in the centre, because my role is similar to Kaka's, who I think is the best player in world football at the moment. His technique is fantastic, he's quick and skilful; he's just a great, great player. I think everybody would recognise that. One day, I'd love to be spoken of as one of the world's best players, but I've got a lot of hard work to do.

"Ultimately, every player dreams of playing in a World Cup and if you asked our team, as a group, that's what they'd also tell you. With more experience for this team fused with some of the experience of players currently in the senior national team, I think we stand a really good chance of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 or perhaps for the one in 2018."

I owe a lot to my country. In fact, playing for Uzbekistan helped me sign for Pakhtakor, who are one of the biggest clubs in Asia. If I hadn't played well in the Asian U-19 championships, I don't think they would have signed me.
Sherzodbek Karimov, Uzbekistan captain.

Karimov is considered to be one of Asia's finest prospects following his performances at the AFC U-19 Championship last year, in which he scored two crucial goals, one of which took the central Asian side to the final. He has also been in impressive form for club side Pakhtakor in the AFC Champions League this year, although by being in Egypt he was forced to miss both legs of their quarter-final defeat to Al Ittihad.

"The national team has to come first and that is why missing games for my club is not a problem," he said philosophically. "Unfortunately, I also missed the cup final victory against Bunyodkor for the same reasons a few months ago, but I'm still young and I hope to have these opportunities again.

"I owe a lot to my country. In fact, playing for Uzbekistan helped me sign for Pakhtakor, who are one of the biggest clubs in Asia. If I hadn't played well in the Asian U-19 championships, I don't think they would have signed me. It's a fantastic club, well known for giving young players a chance to show their talents and play at the highest level in Asian football - and that's exactly what they've done for me."

Karimov has signed a five-year contract with the Asian champions, but admitted that he would like to move abroad at some stage of his career in order to assist his development. "It would be great to play abroad one day as the standard is better and it would allow me to gain more experience," he continued. "Of course if a major club came in for me I would have to consider moving on.

"In Uzbekistan there are only two major clubs at present - Pakhtakor and Bunyodkor, who are both based in Tashkent. For me, it's really good that we have another club who are as strong as Pakhtakor, but it would be great if there could be more. Every player in Uzbekistan dreams of playing in the derby between the two clubs, because of the atmosphere and the standard of play. It's different to any other league match."