- Turkmenistan are top of their Qatar 2022 qualifying group ahead of Korea Republic
- They are close to sealing maiden progression into the third round
- Captain Arslanmyrat Amanow is confident that they can make history
Turkmenistan are enjoying arguably their best FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign. Pitted against Korea Republic, Korea DPR, Lebanon and Sri Lanka in Group H in the second round of the Asian preliminaries, the Karakum Warriors’ chances of making a real impact looked slim.
Their first few results didn’t suggest otherwise, with losses to Korea Republic and Lebanon sandwiching a 2-0 win in Sri Lanka. Just as their campaign looked in jeopardy, however, Turkmenistan bounced back in unexpected fashion. A 3-1 home win over Korea DPR and another two-goal defeat of Sri Lanka propelled them top, one point clear of Korea Republic.
With three matches remaining, they are in with a genuine shout of seizing the pool’s only ticket to the next round, or at least reaching it as one of the four best runners-up.
"We are glad to see that we are in first place," Turkmenistan captain Arslanmyrat Amanow told FIFA.com. "It was not easy to reach the top, but we deserve it. We have worked very hard en route to earning the victories.
"Of course, we understand that there is little room for complacency. There are three games remaining and we can’t take anything for granted. We must do our best to please our fans and make our country proud."
Since joining FIFA in 1994, Turkmenistan have participated in Asian qualifying for each of the six World Cups thereafter. Despite suffering early exits on each occasion, however, gradual progress has been made down the years. Notably, they impressed in the same stage on the road to Russia 2018, stunning IR Iran in a 1-1 draw and pulling off impressive wins against the likes of Oman and India.
"Looking back on the recent years, I can say that we have made consistent improvements," said the 30-year-old midfielder, who is the country's most-capped player, having played 44 internationals over 11 years. “It goes without a saying that new progress will be made after this campaign."
Amanow also attributes the victory over Korea DPR to the fans.
"It was a match which every one of us enjoyed,” he said. “The game plan was well implemented on the pitch, and we showed good teamwork as well as delivering brilliant individual performances.
“But I think the main reason for the victory was our fans. Their passion and support was strongly felt by us.”
History-making opportunity looms
Korea Republic and Lebanon are the next sizable hurdles facing Turkmenistan.
“We played well against both teams in our first meetings, particularly against Lebanon. Lady Luck was not on our side, but we can seize the chances in the next games."
To make sure that they will enter the forthcoming qualifiers in fine form, the team are wasting no time in preparing themselves in the lockdown conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are working on an individual programme given by the fitness coach to maintain our physical shape,” Amanow said. "In addition, we have tactical training through video conferences.
"Making the breakthrough in World Cup qualifying means a lot for us. Firstly, we will get closer to World Cup qualification. We will move higher in the FIFA World Ranking. We will have the chance of rubbing shoulders with Asia's best teams and this will provide a massive boost for us in the future."