Uzbekistan-The World Cup’s first ‘Stan’?


Central Asia is region which was never represented in the World Cup from the end of the Cold War besides having some footballing history when the region was the part of the Soviet Union and its clubs played in the Soviet Top League.With Kazakhstan playing in UEFA and some of its clubs like FC Astana having played in the Champions League and UEFA Europe League besides its national team is pretty awful when it comes to qualifications for major football tournaments,the rest of the region is lagging behind,except for one country and that is Uzbekistan.The White Wolves have been contenders to qualify for football’s grand stage for many years but they have failed short to do so.This year that might be changing,currently the White Wolves are 3rd in Group A behind Iran and Korea and that 3rd place in the group leads to a playoff match with the 3rd placed team from Group B which probably will be Australia,to determine the participant of the AFC in the intercontinental playoffs.Football in Uzbekistan has a tradition dating back to 1912 when the sport was introduced,14 years later in 1926 the Uzbek League was formed.During the period of the USSR the most successful club in Uzbekistan was Pakhtakor Tashkent which was the only club from Uzbekistan to play in the Soviet Top League and played in total 22 seasons.While Pakthtakor was Uzebekistan’s biggest club,only 7 Uzbeks made to the Soviet national team with midfielder Andrey Piatninski the last Uzbek ever to wear the shirt of the Red Army.After the Soviet period,in its first years  the White Wolves achieved some success in the Asian Games when at the 1994 Asian Games in Japan,they defeated China 4-2 that would be their biggest success in the early years and after that they would have to wait until the late 2000s for a result.Thanks to investments in its domestic football federation the White Wolves have made a mark on the continental stage.Starting the 2004 Asian Cup which was held in China,the White Wolves made 3 quarterfinals and a memorable run to the semifinal at the 2011 Asian Cup which was held in Qatar where after passing the group with the hosts of the tournament-Qatar,China and Kuwait,the White Wolves finished at the top of their group.In the quarterfinals they defeated Jordan before being routed out by Australia 6-0 and losing the 3rd place match against South Korea 3-2.Nevertheless it was the White Wolves biggest success in the AFC Asian Cup in their history and it was there that Maksim Shatskikh had its finest hour of his career before retiring three years later.Also Shatskikh was one of the rarest Uzbek footballers to play in the UEFA Champions League,he played for Dynamo Kiev from 1999 to 2009.Another great in Uzbek football is Server Djeparov who was named in the Team of Tournament of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and who was offered a trial at Chelsea but refused to international committments.Also Djeparov holds the record for appearances for the White Wolves at 122 caps.Another Uzbek player who had a chance to make a mark in Europe was Odil Ahmedov who was linked with Arsenal and who currently plays in China for Shanghai SIPG.In the last qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil,the White Wolves did finish 3rd in their group and they made it to the 5th round in a match with Jordan to determine who is going to be in the intercontinental playoffs with Jordan emerging victorious in penalty shootouts after both matches played in Tashkent and Amman finished with 1-1 but later they were routed out by Uruguay in both matches to determine the participant at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.Nevertheless after their defeat against Jordan,the White Wolves have a future ahead and they have a shot to reach the World Cup which will be held in Russia next summer.

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