Modestly placed in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Central Asian country Kyrgyzstan only rarely finds itself in the headlines. Every cloud, however, has a silver lining and the former Soviet republic has occasionally stolen the show on the international stage.
Perhaps even those following Asian football closely may be unaware that the landlocked country are the second most successful in the AFC President's Cup - the third-tier competition for clubs from the continent's 'emerging countries', with their FC Dordoi on course to clinch a third title.
Having claimed consecutive triumphs in 2006 and 2007, the Bishkek-based club has gone three matches undefeated in this year's campaign, including trouncing Bhutan's Yeedzin 9-0 to reach September's final phase in Malacca, Malaysia.
"We hope FC Dordoi can grab a continental treble this time," Mr Meder Stalbek, spokesman of Football Federation of Kyrgyz Republic (FFKR), told FIFA.com. “They are the representatives of our national championship and their performances and results can surely provide us with a massive boost."
FC Dordoi are indeed local favourites having won the domestic title a record eight times, appearing in the AFC President's Cup six times since the tournament's inauguration in 2005. The promising trend can be attributed to the collective efforts of the nation’s footballing fraternity according to Stalbek.
"We began with a great deal of difficulties," he continued. "Our country gained independence in 1991 and three years later FFKR became affiliated to FIFA and AFC. Despite our lack of financial support, FFKR have worked hard to launch and maintain our national championship and have encouraged the clubs to participate in all international competitions if eligible.
"To make sure we can meet the international standards, we are aware we should start from scratch by improving our education and training. With significant help from FIFA and AFC, our education scheme has covered doctors, referees, administrators and particularly coaches. We have provided courses for 450 coaches who are expected to receive AFC licenses from A to C. In 2011, two national team coaches were among those first receiving AFC licenses from our country."
FIFA has played a key role in Kyrgyzstan's building process, a fact which Stalbek was quick to acknowledge. "FIFA instructors have conducted educational sessions for our coaches on a regular basis. Besides, FIFA helped us with construction of a number of top-quality training fields. These facilities are essential for our young players development."
With the country's collective efforts, achievements have come naturally. Adding to the feats by FC Dordoi, Kyrgyzstan have made notable progress in both futsal and women's football. "Our national futsal side is among Asia's top four teams," added a proud Stalbek. "They have participated regularly in continental championships. And we boast a complete women's league, in keeping with FIFA’s recommendation. Despite all these ups and downs, football remains the number one sport here with millions of followers."
Challenge in the Challenge Cup
Inspired by the aforementioned achievements, Kyrgyzstan’s national team have qualified for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup finals through a series of excellent displays. They opened with a pair of 1-0 wins over Macau and Pakistan, before recording an unlikely victory against nemesis Tajikistan by an identical scoreline to seal their return to next March's continental finals in Maldives. The results gifted them an added reward with a mammoth 59-place move in April's FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to 142.
A host of promising stars excelled as Kyrgyzstan earned progression to the Challenge Cup finals. David Tehheh scored three times in as many games to become the group's top-scorer, while Mirlan Murzaev, who has netted ten times with FC Dordoi in this year's AFC President's Cup, provided a dangerous presence throughout.
"We are aiming to win the next AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives," FFKR President Semetey Sultanov told FIFA.com. “I trust our team. We will work hard to achieve our goal. In the long run, we have focused much on youth development over the past years and we are planning to make the breakthrough at the age group levels."