The road to New Zealand
Long known as a force to be reckoned with in Asia, Uzbekistan are now progressing rapidly on the global stage. They have already made three appearances at the FIFA U-20 World Cup and, in their first at UAE 2003, the Central Asians endured a tough baptism, exiting after three straight defeats. Signs of improvement were evident at Egypt 2009, when they snatched their first-ever point in a 1-1 draw with England. And then, in the 2013 edition, the Uzbeks went a step further, making history by reaching the last eight.
Taking heart from that quarter-final finish in Turkey, Uzbekistan entered the AFC U-19 Championship aiming to win their first continental title. They opened brightly with a 3-1 defeat of Indonesia and went on to draw against first United Arab Emirates then Australia to progress to the last eight. A narrow 2-1 win against Thailand then followed, sealing their place in the semi-finals and, with that, a place at New Zealand 2015. But their tournament ended in disappointment with a crushing 5-0 loss to Korea DPR in the last four.
Strengths and style
Since joining Asian Football Association back in 1994, Uzbekistan teams have impressed with their European-style play, and this U-20 side - organised, balanced and physically strong - is no exception.
The current squad features seven players from the side that won the 2012 AFC U-16 Championship, and its brightest star is Zabikhillo Urinboev, who has experience of two FIFA tournaments: the 2011 U-17 World Cup and the 2013 U-20 World Cup. With his experience and sublime skill, the forward was a key man in Uzbekistan's qualifying campaign, scoring five times in four appearances. The Uzbeks, though, will need to show a stronger mentality than was on show against the North Koreans in that humbling semi-final loss.
A former defender with Traktor Tashkent, Ravshan Khaydarov began his coaching career with the same club in 1997 before being appointed Uzbekistan's senior coach in 2002. However, his greatest achievements came during a spell in charge of Pakhtakor, with whom he twice won the domestic league, earning Uzbekistan's Coach of the Year award on two occasions.
FIFA U-20 World Cup record
- New Zealand 2015 marks Uzbekistan's fourth appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup
- Uzbekistan progressed beyond the group stage only once, at Turkey 2013, when they went all the way to the last eight only to lose out to eventual champions France
What they said
"We displayed our character [in the qualifiers] and achieved the desired result. I think this will add confidence to my players and help us in our future challenges."
Ravshan Khaydarov, Uzbekistan coach