Failure is the mother success.
If this Asian proverb accounts for anything, Uzbekistan could be set to end their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying jinx by progressing to Brazil 2014.
Since joining FIFA in 1994, the former Soviet Republic have under-achieved. They have, indeed, stormed into the continent's final qualifying round for each of the past four FIFA World Cups, only to fall at the final hurdle.
The Central Asians’ fifth attempt to reach the global extravaganza saw them once again make it to the final phase. However, the old ghosts seemingly began to haunt them again as they salvaged merely a point from their opening two matches, results which immediately left their campaign in jeopardy.
Languishing second-bottom, the Uzbeks welcome leaders Korea Republic to Tashkent on 11 September, desperately seeking to revive their fortunes. For Mirdjalal Kasimov, who was given back the national team reins in June, only a realistic strategy can put his team’s competition back on track.
"There is no question that Korea Republic are the favourites to win the group, and there status has been justified by their perfect results so far" the 41-year-old told FIFA.com. “So we should aim to fight for the second qualifying spot or even the third place for a play-off between ourselves and the other contenders. To achieve this we must work hard and try to win every game from now on."
Kasimov featured in Uzbekistan's failed quests to reach France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006, before going on to coach the team as they missed out on South Africa 2010. The former national team captain attributes the country’s usual descent from a hopeful start to a disappointing run-in to a lack of consistency.
"We have been regular performers in Asia's final qualifying round and we even reached the play-off stage [in qualifying for Germany 2006]," he said. "In footballing terms, we didn't have what is required to deliver the decisive final blow against our opponents, and that’s why we failed.”
Uzbekistan have, nevertheless, made rapid progress since failing to make the 32-team field for South Africa 2010. They reached the semi-finals at the AFC Asian Cup 2011, before finishing above the mighty Japan and Korea DPR in the previous round of the Asian Zone preliminaries for Brazil 2014.
"I have a very creative team at my disposal,” remarked Kasimov. “All my players are talented and skillful. These players are ready to give their utmost in the remaining games as we target a place at Brazil 2014.”
In footballing terms, we didn't have what is required to deliver the decisive final blow against our opponents, and that’s why we failed.
Heading into the final phase of qualifying so high on confidence, Uzbekistan were conceded a last-gasp winner at home to Iran before being held to a 1-1 draw by Lebanon.
“We created more chances than Iran, but they had the luck,” lamented Kasimov. “And Lady Luck again deserted us in Beirut as we let slip a deserved win. This showed our defensive problems and we will make necessary changes to keep it tight at the back."
No regrets at lost landmark
With 31 goals from 67 matches during his 13-year international career, Kasimov had long been the country's all-time top scorer. But the former midfielder was nonetheless happy to see his record recently surpassed by Maksim Shatskikh.
"I am glad that Maksim scored three more goals than me," Kasimov said. "Some other players have also scored regularly, like Timur Kapadze, Server Djeparov, Alexander Geynrikh to name a few. I am glad to see this because every goal they have scored contributed to the national team's progress."
With these players shouldering the scoring burden as Ignatiy Nesterov takes care of the job between the posts, Kasimov is in no doubt that Uzbekistan can turn past failures into success.
"These players form the nucleus of the team,” he said. “Most importantly, they are in peak form. There are still six games ahead of us, so we are far from being ruled out. We will do out best to go to Brazil.”