Scoring your first goal at a major championship to earn a point in a game many thought you would struggle in would seem a decent evening's work to most observers. The overriding emotion emanating from Sardor Rakhmanov, however, was one of frustration.
That feeling stems from fact that, in drawing 1-1 with Croatia, his side missed the opportunity to seal a place in the round of 16 with a game to spare. Uzbekistan had led since the big defender had opened the scoring midway through the first half, tapping in Jamshid Iksanderov's free-kick following a decisive flick-on from Boburbek Yuldashov.
It was a goal that was far from against the run of play too, as Abbosbek Makhstaliev had already missed a gilt-edged chance prior to the goal. But when Marko Livaja broke free from Yuldashov to score from a second-half free-kick himself, Uzbekistan were destined for a potentially crucial decider with Uruguay.
“I feel the team played fantastically, we worked hard and created chances in tough conditions,” Rakhmanov told FIFA.com, after a bruising test in Bursa, “I'm just disappointed that weren't able to qualify today. However, I am sure we will confirm it against Uruguay and we will make it into the next round. We are all hoping we can reach the quarter-finals, and after that, we will see.”
The Livaja goal ultimately took the shine off Rakhmanov's own strike too, though he was still able to appreciate the personal significance in the aftermath of the game. “Always, in my mind the result is the most important thing, how the team does is what matters, so I am disappointed about the result, but it is always nice to get a goal for my country.”
After a dominant performance against New Zealand in the opening game, which they won 3-0, Croatia were always going to present a very different obstacle, with Uzbekistan knowing their possession would be limited and they would be the less physically imposing side. Nonetheless, it was a challenge the Lokomotiv Tashkent man thinks they passed impressively.
“We are happy with how we coped with the pressure from Croatia. They are a strong team who work hard but I think we did very well,” he said. “It was disappointing to not have won after being ahead for so long, but it shows we can compete with these sides well. Hopefully it means we will be able to do the same against Uruguay.”
Uruguay contest reprised
This final Group F match promises to be an interesting prospect for a number of players on both sides, with Rakhmanov amongst the six Uzbek players who were present at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2011 when the South Americans beat them in the quarter-finals. The fact that seven players from that side are in the current Los Charruas squad plays into their hands, in the 19-year-old's mind.
“I know the Uruguay team well, having played against them in Mexico two years ago. There are quite a few of the same players that played in that match and we are well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. We are confident we know how to get a result against them.”
While their last meeting ultimately ended in defeat, that game has not tainted the time he spent with the squad two years ago. “My memories from Mexico are mainly good ones, it was a wonderful experience playing there, in front of the crowds and representing my country,” Rakhmanov recalled. “That tournament is behind us now and we are focussed on this one, but no one can take those memories away from me.”