Blue Eagles set to soar
© AFP

Since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 1994, Kyrgyzstan have kept a low profile on the continental scene. With the national team having failed to make a serious impact, their fans have been looking for something to raise their spirits, and found just that when their heroes shot up 17 rungs to the 143rd in August's FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

Kyrgyzstan's current position is not the highest they have reached since they became affiliated to FIFA a decade and half ago, with an all-time high of 119th having been scaled in August 2006. However, last month's double-digit climb was well worth celebrating as it made them Asia's ‘top movers' on the global ladder, taking them past the likes of Vietnam, neighbouring Turkmenistan and India to rank 22nd place in the continental pecking order.

Yet the Central Asians still have their work cut out to hold their own against the cream of Asian football, something borne out by their mixed performances in the recent Nehru Cup. Kyrgyzstan endured a poor showing in the opening stages, falling short to Syria by 2-0 before narrowly losing out to hosts and eventual champions India. Despite the disappointing start, Anarbek Ormonbekov's side restored some pride by holding Lebanon to a 1-1 draw - and better was to follow.

Indeed, Kyrgyzstan, nicknamed the ‘Blue Eagles', looked a team transformed in their closing game against a Sri Lanka side still challenging for a place in the final. Ormonbekov's side dominated the match, with Anton Zemlianuhin opening the scoring for Kyrgyzstan after 34 minutes when he latched on to a cross from Vadim Harchenko.

Amirov Ildar doubled Kyrgyzstan's lead on the stroke of half-time with Harchenko again providing the killer's pass, and although Sri Lanka pulled one back, Mirlan Murzaev soon restored the two-goal cushion before Rustem Usanov sealed a stylish 4-1 win.

Ups and downs
The major issue Kyrgyzstan hope to address is that they have never reached the final stages of Asian Zone FIFA World Cup qualifying, nor qualified for an AFC Asian Cup. This may not be a major shock given that the landlocked nation's population numbers less than five million, but they remain desperate for a chance on the big stage.

After failing to progress beyond the preliminary round of the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, they set out with high hopes of reaching uncharted territory on the road to South Africa. They went close too, but after drawing with Jordan 2-2 on aggregate, they suffered the agony of a penalty shootout defeat.

However, while their bid for a place at the Asian Cup ended in similar circumstances, the inception in 2006 of the AFC Challenge Cup - a tournament designed for Asia's second-tier countries - has finally provided a chance to showcase their potential. Kyrgyzstan took the inaugural competition by storm by reaching the last four. Then, after missing out on a place in the last edition in India two years ago, they bounced back to book their second appearance in March's competition.

With the winners of the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup guaranteed a place at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar, you can be sure that Kyrgyzstan will stop at nothing to break new ground.