No pain no gain for Nuraliyev

Dilshod Nuraliyev is one of football’s characters. The Uzbekistan U-17 national team coach is in perpetual motion whenever his charges play, continually gesticulating and barking out orders from the touchline. He lives and breathes the game with a passion not often seen at this age level, so much passion in fact that there are times when you fear for his well being. Yet Nuraliyev does not believe in doing things by half measures, telling “It doesn’t feel the same if you don’t suffer.”

Fortunately for the Uzbekistan players, their progress at the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013 in no way reflects the suffering their coach endures from the sidelines. The White Wolves started the tournament with a fine 2-0 defeat of Panama and then held Group C revelations Morocco to a goalless draw on Monday.

I’m very emotional and I just don’t seem to be able to hide what I feel during games. 

Yet anyone watching Nuraliyev’s reactions to the game would have thought his side were falling to a heavy defeat rather than picking up what could well turn out to be a crucial point. Discussing his unique way of observing the game to, the Uzbekistan coach said: “It’s impossible for me to watch a match sitting on the bench, emotionless, as if I were at the theatre. That’s my problem. I’m very emotional and I just don’t seem to be able to hide what I feel during games.”

He added: “That’s what you get for working in football. You don’t realise how involved you become. You don’t worry about your health during matches. All you think about is how the game’s going and how your players are doing. That’s the way I work, and I don’t think I can do things any other way.”

Forever on the move during matches, Nuraliyev also catches the eye after the final whistle, at which point he calls his players round him in the centre of the pitch, squats down on his haunches and chats to them.

Discussing his post-match team talk, which has become something of a ritual, he said: “I like to do it where they’ve been playing. This time I told them that they’d done really well against Morocco and that they can do even better against Croatia. I thanked them for the effort they’ve been putting in. It’s just a way for me to show my gratitude and motivate them for what lies ahead, which will be very tough indeed.”

Mind games In an earlier interview with, the excitable coach said he would not stop until his side reached the final. Two games into the competition, however, and he has an alternative take on how the tournament might pan out: “Generally speaking there are no favourites in this age group. You can’t say Brazil and Argentina are the favourites because this is a different level, a different age category. Players feel different things and control them in different ways. Things are always changing. Sometimes the boys are fine and other times they’re not. With that in mind, I think the best team is going to be the one that can find a mental balance whenever they play. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to achieve with my team.”

The only obstacle between Uzbekistan and a place in the Round of 16 is Croatia, their third opponents in the group. “It’s most probably going to be a very important game for us because they’ll also be hoping to go through,” he said, looking ahead to Thursday’s showdown with the Balkan side.

“We had a really hard game against Morocco today. At this age level African sides are usually very strong and you need to be focused and aware the whole time to avoid putting yourself under pressure,” he added. “It’s sure to be a keenly contested match with the Croatians. We’ll be looking to qualify and what I want from my players more than anything is for them to start each game as winners.”

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