2008 proved to be the most prolific year so far in Uzbekistan’s short footballing history since the former Soviet Republic joined the Asian Football Confederation in 1994. With the national team powering through to Asia’s final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and Bunyodkor reaching the last four of the AFC Champions League, their young hopefuls also took the continental youth championship by storm to book a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Under the guidance of coach Akhmad Ubaydullaev, Uzbekistan got their campaign off to a perfect start as they registered a hard fought-victory over Jordan. After sharing the spoils with Australia in a lacklustre 1-1 draw, they went on to defeat Thailand in a tightly contested encounter to progress to the knockout stage. In the all-important quarter-final clash against China, Ubaydullaev’s men kept their cool to win the penalty shoot-out.
It was even more remarkable as Uzbekistan gaolkeeper Doniyorjon Usmonov was dismissed shortly before the close of play. Having already used all three substitutes, Ubaydullaev had no option but to play fullback, Murod Khalmukhamedov between the posts. However, the defender produced a fantastic performance and was on hand to produce the decisive save which booked them a place in the last four and a spot at Egypt 2009.
Ubaydullaev’s achievement in nurturing arguably the best youth side the nation has produced should not be underestimated. When the former Olympic coach resigned as assistant manager with local giants Pakhtakor in 2001, he embarked on a new career as a mentor at the Chighatoy Youth Football Academy in Tashkent. The 54-year-old has spent the past five years scouring the nation for young talents before successfully moulding them into quality players.
Midfielder Sherzodbek Karimov was the driving force throughout as he captained the team to the tournament final, firing in two crucial goals in the process. He opened the scoring against Australia before notching the only goal against Korea Republic in the semi-final. His brilliant performances saw him nominated for the AFC Youth Player of the Year award. Playing alongside him in the centre of midfield is Fozil Musaev, whose creative talents did not go unnoticed by senior national coach Mirdjalal Kasimov. At the back, Islom Tuhtahujaev remains the focal point and helps make the team’s defence solid.
What they said…
"We should push aside all that we have achieved and start all over again from the zero point to break new ground.” Uzbekistan coach Akhmad Ubaydullaev.