A football-loving tradition underpins the prospects of Turkmenistan, a former Soviet Republic struggling to develop after being labelled a second-tier side in Asia. Since joining FIFA in 1994, however, they have earned a reputation as a hard-working team willing to fight the good fight against any and all challengers.
In the run-up to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, the Central Asian side were drawn in Group 7 with favourites Uzbekistan, Jordan and Chinese Taipei. They won all four contests with the latter two teams, but suffered home and away defeats against their powerful neighbours to shatter their dreams of advancing to the further rounds of Asian Zone qualifying.
They proved themselves a promising team in the recent 2004 Asian Cup qualifiers. At home, they beat Italy 1990 finalists United Arab Emirates 1-0 in their opening group match, and then held them away 1-1. These two results certainly indicated that the Turkmen were rapidly improving. However, at the tournament itself, the Central Asians failed to make a significant impression, exiting the tournament in the first round, although they gained a notable draw against Saudi Arabia.
In the qualifying campaign for Germany 2006, Turkmenistan easily went through to the initial group stage in Asia after they beat Afghanistan 13-0 on aggregate. But three-time Asian Champions Saudi Arabia proved too much for them in the group stage, and with only one team advancing from that initial series, the Turkmen were out.
Footballing passion has been reignited in recent years with the domestic league faring well. However, it remains to be seen if Turkmenistan will be able to make an impact on the continental stage.
Fortunately for their faithful fans, Rakhim Kurbanmamedov's men saw off Cambodia and Hong Kong in the opening stages of qualifying for South Africa 2010. However, the Turkmen have struggled in the tough third stage, losing heavily to Korea Republic away and going down 2-0 to Jordan at home.
Although Turkmenistan managed to earn their first point of the campaign with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Korea DPR at home, the Caspian nation's dream of reaching the finals was all but finished after a 1-0 away defeat by the North Koreans. The subsequent defeats in the two remaining games meant Turkmenistan finished bottom of the group, but the Central Asians can take heart from the fact that the young players are improving from game to game, and another chance will come in four years' time.