Rakhmatov: Uzbekistan have learned Futsal World Cup lessons
Uzbekistan made their Futsal World Cup debut at Colombia 2016
Dilshod struck four times to fire Uzbekistan to their maiden global appearance
Veteran is targeting groundbreaking progression at Lithuania 2021
Uzbekistan's Dilshod Rakhmatov enters the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania™ with a clear goal: to make his country proud. It is only their second appearance at the global showpiece but the Dalian Yuan Dynasty man has high hopes of a memorable campaign. "I am glad to have this opportunity to showcase our progress and defend the honour of our country," the 31-year-old told FIFA.com. "We are coming to represent Uzbekistan and I feel that I am in the peak of my career." Rakhmatov and Co made their Futsal World Cup debut at Colombia 2016 but a lack of international experiences manifested in their failure to progress beyond the group phase, with their only point coming in a 3-3 draw against the hosts. Five years on, however, he feels they are well placed to spring a surprise or two in a section that also features Russia, Egypt and Guatemala. "Our initial goal is to qualify from this group," he continued. "We made mistakes in our first Futsal World Cup and lessons have been learned. "We have never played against Guatemala and we are unfamiliar with them. As for the other two sides, we have had experiences with Russia and we know their game. Egypt are no strangers for us as we met them in a recent international championship in Thailand (winning 4-0)."
Uzbekistan's qualifying course has never run smooth. Since joining AFC, they have participated in the biannual AFC Futsal Asian Cup, which doubles as the Futsal World Cup qualifiers every four years. They did manage to finish among the top three on five occasions from 1999 to 2014, but it seemed that their world always caved in when it mattered most in World Cup qualifying years. The breakthrough didn't come until Uzbekistan hosted the 2016 edition of the Asian finals. In the all-important quarter-final, they beat Iraq 3-0 - with Rakhmatov striking a brace – to storm into the last four and thus seal a place at the global finals. "2016 was the best year of my career,” said Rakhmatov, whose team ended that tournament as runners-up. “I had won championships with my club and country before, but going through that qualifying campaign and reaching a first World Cup was more significant. "We were playing on home soil and we had the entire stadium behind us. And we knew there were also many fans watching us on TV. We battled hard and made it through. Those were unforgettable scenes. Even today I still remember the goals I scored against Iraq. It is a fond memory I will cherish all my life. "It [qualification for Colombia 2016] was very important for our country. Uzbekistan’s futsal team was founded in 1996 but we failed in World Cup qualifying time and again. Finally, we were able to put all this behind us and make history [in 2016]."
Defying the odds
In preparing for the Futsal World Cup, Uzbekistan - under new coach Bakhodir Ahmedov – endured a series of difficulties caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "It made life hard for us," Rakhmatov reflected. "During the lockdown last year, we couldn't leave the house. So we had to do all our training lessons at home. We tried every means we could think of to maintain fitness and form. And thank God, things are getting better. We can now train and play outside." A series of friendlies were arranged in their build-up to Lithuania 2121 as Uzbekistan sharpened form with a win and a draw against Venezuela, and a thumping 10-0 victory over Mozambique. Notably, they also played twice against reigning world champions Argentina and were edged out only by the slightest of margins. "We have gained good experiences for the World Cup," he said. "We have a new-look team with a host of youngsters and coach Akhmedov is urging them to play well. The chemistry within the team is very good. We are ready to battle.”