- *Uzbekistan must beat Korea Republic to maintain hopes of qualifying directly for Russia 2018 *
- *Historically, the Taeguk Warriors have been a bogey team for the White Wolves *
- *"Either we win or we should end football in our country," declared the Uzbek captain *
"This is our last chance. Either we beat South Korea or we should end football in our country."
Strong words from Uzbekistan captain Odil Ahmedov, who cut an emotional figure during the post-match analysis of his country’s 1-0 defeat to China PR on Thursday 31 August.
Of course, the Shanghai SIPG midfielder is exaggerating slightly: although the upcoming fixture against Korea Republic is Uzbekistan’s final game in Group A of the Asian qualifiers, it is by no means the White Wolves’ last chance of reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Mathematically, even a draw would still leave the door open, albeit via the route of the play-off rounds. However, Ahmedov does not even want to contemplate that outcome.
"We already went through that four years ago," said the 29-year-old central midfielder to FIFA.com, remembering how Uzbekistan came agonisingly close to qualifying for Brazil 2014. "We picked up the same number of points as the Koreans but finished in third place because of our worse goal difference, and then we lost out to Jordan in the play-offs. This time we want to qualify for the World Cup directly, avoiding this situation."
The 2014 qualifiers were not the only time that the Taeguk Warriors barred the Uzbeks' path to the World Cup finals. In attempting to reach Germany 2006, Uzbekistan failed to deny Korea Republic second place and went on to lose against Bahrain in a play-off.
Korea Republic seem to have an ongoing hoodoo over the former Soviet republic, proving their undoing not only in World Cup qualifiers but in the AFC Asian Cup as well. In 2011, the Taeguk Warriors prevailed 3-2 in the match for third place and, four years later, they knocked out the White Wolves 2-0 after extra time. In 14 competitive fixtures, Korea Republic have won ten, with Uzbekistan’s only victory over their rivals coming in a 1-0 win in 1994. Remaining positive cannot be easy when faced with such damning statistics.
"They’re our bogey team, it’s a fact," Ahmedov admitted, "but we’re playing at home and we have a duty to our fans. We have to fulfil this duty – there’s no other option. I think the defeat to China will fire up the lads. We have a strong team and we shouldn’t ever perform like that."
The loss to China PR was Uzbekistan’s fourth away loss in a row during this qualifying campaign.
"It’s hard to win when you don’t score from such inviting positions. How many clear-cut chances did we have against China? We cannot approach games in this way. I think we’ll show a much better standard of football in Tashkent. Only a win will suit us at home."
Group A fixtures Uzbekistan-Korea Republic, 5 September, Tashkent. KO at 18:00 Moscow time.
Iran-Syria, 5 September, Tehran. KO at 18:00 Moscow time.
Qatar-China PR, 5 September, Doha. KO at 18:00 Moscow time.