Fans in Doha are not easy to impress, having seen some of the world's established stars come and go. To name a few, Spanish legend Raul spent three seasons with Qatar Stars League giants Al Sadd before his countryman Xavi followed suit by joining the same side last September. But with Al Jaish's new signing Sardor Rashidov excelling in his debut season, even the strictest local fans are lavish in pouring their praise at the unsung Uzbek predator.
Despite arriving in the Qatari capital only last July, the 24-year-old has quickly made a name for himself by scoring nine times from 20 appearances as his side sits among the top three in the standings. Even more significant is that the former Bunyodkor player has dazzled the spectators through his pace and goalscoring knack, performances which earned him the nickname 'CR10' (he is donning the No10 jersey at Al Jaish).
"Being nicknamed CR10 gives you pleasure because Cristiano Ronaldo is such a world class star," Rashidov didn't conceal his excitement speaking with FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "Though, it feels better when people call me by my name, Sardor.
"I have come to Qatar to take on new challenges," he continued remarking on his first overseas move. "Al Jaish is a good team and I am happy playing here. Besides, it is an honour to represent my country in a foreign league. I am always dreaming of playing in one of Europe's top leagues, but now I am focusing on improving my skills. The European chance will come naturally if you shine."
*Asian Cup emergence
*A self-confident player as he is, though, few knew who Rashidov was just three years ago. A product of Sogdiana Jizzakh from his hometown, Jizzakh, Rashidov was recruited by Uzbek giants Bunyodkor in 2009, but the unpolished diamond would have to spend the next few seasons honing his skills. Then, the chance came when he earned his first international cap in 2013.
His national team debut was, in a sense, a stiff test. Uzbekistan entertained Vietnam in what was a must-win game in 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifying, having struggled early in the campaign. With just a point from two opening outings, the Uzbeks were desperate to put their campaign back on track but the visitors defended gallantly as the score remained goalless after the first half.
Knowing what potential Rashidov boasts, his club coach Mirjalol Qosimov, who was then also managing the national team, sent Rashidov on after the restart. His faith paid dividends when the attacker broke the deadlock to set the home team on the road to a 3-1 opening victory. A month later, he would seal a 3-0 away triumph against the same side as they claimed back-to-back wins.
"That was a fond memory against Vietnam," recalled Rashidov. "I scored in my international debut and that proved an important goal for us in qualifying. My coaches have repeatedly told me to have confidence, so I feel strong even playing against experienced players. Now three years have passed and I have become more confident."
Rashidov would go on to shine in last year's 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia, completing a brace as Uzbekistan saw off Saudi Arabia 3-1 in their group's closing game, a result which sealed their progression into the last eight. Meanwhile, his club form proved similarly impressive, finishing as Bunyodkor's top goalscorer in the 2014 season with 15 goals in all competitions.
"My job is to score goals. I am a striker and I have to score goals to help my team. Talent (as a striker) is given by God but you can't be a good footballer just with these gifts. You should work and train hard. My strengths lie in my desire for self-perfection. I always want to improve myself and I believe only work can make you better and stronger."
*World Cup hopes
*Being hailed as one of Asia's promising stars, Rashidov has continued his prolific form in the continent's ongoing qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. He has been on target four times, including scoring a brace in a 5-1 rout of Philippines as Uzbekistan are on the verge of progression with two games left. With fans beginning to liken his goalscoring rate to former Uzbekistan and Dynamo Kyiv star Maksim Shatskikh, however, the player thinks differently.
"Shatskikh is a great player," he said. "He is an idol for every Uzbek young player. But I want to be myself. I want to be the first Rashidov of my team. I want to help my team to win as many matches as possible.
“Now we have good chances of qualifying for the next stage. This is one of the best Uzbekistan squads in history. It is time to make our fans happy by booking our first ever World Cup qualification. My goal is to play in a FIFA World Cup with my team and I'll do my best for it."