Uzbekistan

The past
Uzbekistan enter this October's FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates aiming to make more of an impact, having reached the last eight in their global debut in the previous edition at Mexico 2011. On the back of their ground-breaking achievement in Asia's qualifying campaign in 2010, where they finished runners-up and sealed their maiden international appearance, they took the world stage by storm with a series of plucky displays. Despite being dealt a 4-1 blow at the hands of New Zealand in the opener, Aleksey Evstafeev's side bounced back with a 2-1 defeat of USA, before edging Czech Republic by the same scoreline to reach the Round of 16. The White Wolves proceeded to rout Australia 4-0 to progress to the quarter-finals, only to lose out to eventual runners-up Uruguay 2-0.

The present
Last September's 2012 AFC U-16 Championship saw the Uzbeks, under the guidance of Dilshod Nuraliev, continue their progress on the Asian stage by clinching their first title. It proved to be, however, a hard campaign for the side, who scraped past India 3-2 and drew 1-1 against China PR in their group openers. Uzbekistan's progression was confirmed thanks only to India's 2-2 draw with China, with the Whites Wolves having lost to section winners Syria by a solitary goal. They had an even harder test in the crucial quarter-final clash against Korea Republic, being held to a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes, but went through with a penalty shoot-out victory to seal qualification for UAE 2013.

The future
With the team struggling throughout the qualifying competition, it was their mental strength that carried them to the continental crown. Nuraliev's side came from a goal down to edge a promising Iran 3-2 and their resolve and fighting spirit were best shown in the consequent final against Japan, where they again prevailed on penalties. Nuraliev was quick to pay tribute to goalkeeper Sarvar Karimov, who became the side's hero after saving a series of spot-kicks as Uzbekistan won the tournament. He said: "I am thankful to all players who put in brilliant performances, and especially Karimov whose hard pre-tournament training paid off."