For most Asian teams, progression beyond the group phase at a FIFA competition is seen as a significant feat, let alone a last-eight finish. But Uzbekistan's youngsters have proved that they are more than capable on the world stage, having reached the quarter-finals on more than one occasion.
Two years ago, a dynamic Uzbek side took the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 by storm, powering into the last eight as debutants only to lose out 2-0 against tournament runners-up Uruguay. Most recently, the Central Asians emulated the feat at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, sweeping past the likes of New Zealand and Greece to advance to the quarter-finals.
Both achievements can, indeed, provide inspiration for Uzbekistan coach Dilshod Nuraliyev, who is aiming to scale new heights at October's FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013. Having claimed their second appearance at the global showpiece, the Uzbek manager has now fixed his sights on claiming a new milestone.
"Our former squad did fairly well at Mexico 2011," Nuraliyev told FIFA.com. "And we are hoping to build on that success this time around. Our U-20 side's brilliant performances at Turkey 2013 came as a further boost to not only us, but all our junior sides. We believe in ourselves and we are capable of achieving our goal."
Nuraliyev's confidence is by no means unfounded, considering his charges' history-making AFC U-16 Championship campaign last September. Despite only narrowly edging China PR to reach the second round, they pipped Korea Republic in the last eight to qualify for UAE 2013, before defeating Japan in the final to seal their maiden continental title.
Even more impressive was the resilience and resolve they demonstrated throughout the campaign, during which they edged India in the opener and Iran in the semi-finals by the narrowest of margins, while prevailing against both Korea Republic and Japan on penalties.
"We have a psychological coach who is responsible for working on mentality," Nuraliyev explained. "The rest of the coaching staff help instill fighting spirit into the players' minds in training. And we ask our boys to play with aplomb.
"It was natural the youngsters were under big pressure going into the AFC U-16 Championship. We missed loads of chances against our opponents during the group campaign and the players didn't show their best. But after sealing qualification I told them to keep their cool and they did just that to fulfill our mission. I hope our boys can continue to display these characteristics in the World Cup. They are the best crop of talent in our country and they want to prove that."
With the entire Uzbek squad excelling on the Asian scene, it was custodian Sarvar Karimov who stole the show after putting in a series of heroic displays between the posts. Having warmed the bench in the opening two matches, the Lokomotiv Tashkent keeper started against Syria and held his place thereafter. Most notably, he played a decisive role in their breath-taking penalty shoot-out victories over Korea Republic and Japan. "He did a good job in the qualifiers and he is now our number one goalkeeper," said the manager.
Like Karimov, forward Akobir Turaev also entered the campaign as a substitute, but twice rose to the occasion to rescue the situation when it mattered most. He was on target as Uzbekistan held both Korea Republic and Japan 1-1 after extra time, before their shoot-out heroics.
"Turaev was not a key player when we started our Asian campaign," revealed Nuraliyev. "But I know what potential he has from his performances during training. We kept him for the knockout stage, where he duly proved his goal-scoring talents. He will be among our starting eleven as long as he maintains his form and condition."
Preparation for UAE 2013 is underway with training camps in July and August, during which Nuraliyev's side will play friendlies against local first division clubs as well as against fellow Asian participants at UAE 2013; Iran.
Though the looming World Cup is never far from his thoughts, the coach is also mindful of longer term goals. "All of us want to do our best and achieve a great result - reach the World Cup final,” he said. “But our main aim is, in the long run, to prepare these players for our future national senior team. They represent our future generation.”