Uzbekistan’s Odil Ahmedov has come a long way since running out for the reserves at Tashkent club Pakhtakor. Promoted to the first team by coach Valeri Nepomniachi in 2006, the midfielder seized his opportunity and was rewarded for his impressive club form with an international debut against Taiwan in October 2007.
While national team colleague Server Djeparov attracted the headlines, winning the Asian Player of the Year award in 2008, Ahmedov quietly got on with the job of consolidating his place in the Uzbekistan side. He proved his worth with a valuable contribution to the White Wolves’ run to the final qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, scoring three goals in two games against Lebanon.
And as anyone monitoring events at the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 will know, the 23-year-old is continuing to star on the international stage, hitting two more goals to help fire the Uzbeks into the semi-finals of the competition. The pick of those strikes was undoubtedly the first, which set his side on the way to a 2-0 defeat of the hosts in the tournament’s opening match.
With the clock approaching the hour mark, Ahmedov collected the ball nearly 40 metres out and unleashed a spectacular swerving strike that evaded the despairing dive of Qatar keeper Qasem Burhan and crashed in off the underside of the crossbar.
“I felt so happy when it went in,” Ahmedov told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “You don’t score a goal like that every day. I was hoping to get one against Qatar but I didn’t expect it to be that good.”
In his side’s final group match against China PR, Ahmedov showed there is more to his game than powerful shooting. Making a darting run from the left touchline, he played a deft one-two with Djeparov before neatly clipping the ball past China custodian Yang Zhi with the outside of his right foot.
What makes Ahmedov’s goalscoring turns in Qatar all the more remarkable is the fact that Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov has him operating in an unaccustomed central-defensive position.
“I normally play in midfield and not in defence,” says the Uzbeks’ two-goal hero. “Personally I’d prefer an attacking role in midfield, but we’ve had one or two problems at the back and I’ve had to help out. That hasn’t stopped me from scoring though. I love getting forward and hitting the back of the net.”
No limits and new horizons
Though he did not get on the scoresheet in the 2-1 quarter-final win over Jordan, the versatile midfielder was understandably delighted to help the central Asian side advance to the semi-finals of the competition for the first time.
“I tried to score against Jordan, but it didn’t work out,” he explains. “All the same, I’m so pleased with the victory. It doesn’t matter who scores. What really counts is that Uzbekistan won. It was a tough game for both teams because whoever lost were going straight out. Neither side had reached the semis before and we both really wanted it. We’re thrilled to be through and I hope we can pay back the fans supporting us here in Qatar. To be among the top four sides in Asia is a major achievement for us, and it’s sure to give football a big boost back home.”
The makeshift centre-half is reluctant to set limits when asked how far he and his team-mates can go in Qatar: “We want to keep going and beat Australia to reach the final. Our goal is to win the Asian Cup and we’ll be giving our very best to make that happen.”
Though devoted to the team cause, Ahmedov is also hoping the Asian finals can provide a springboard for his career and bring about a move to Europe. “My aim before I came here was to put on a good show and attract some offers from European clubs,” he acknowledges. “I’d love to play there because it’s a totally different game. Everyone wants to play in Europe.”
His destination of choice? “I’d love to play in England one day, but any other league would do to start off with. I’m not too bothered about which country, whether it’s Russia, Belgium or Spain. It all depends on the offer. Then I’ll just need to sit down and think about it.”