Oʻzbekiston / Uzbekistan
- Capital: Tashkent / Toshkent / Тошкент / تاشكینت
- Official Languages: Uzbek
- Recognised Regional Language: Karakalpak
- Inter-Ethnic Language: Russian
- Nicknames: The White Wolves; Turanians; Asian Italy; Huma Birds
- Association: Uzbekistan Football Association (UFA) / Oʻzbekiston futbol assotsiatsiyasi / Футбольная ассоциация Узбекистана
- FIFA Code: UZB
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Fourth Place (2011)
- Best Asian Cup Result (Women): Group Stage (5 times)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 45th (November 2006 – January 2007)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 38th (September 2011)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 119th (November 1996)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 133rd (December 2014)
- Most Capped Players: Server Djeparov – 128 caps
- Top Scorer: Maksim Shatskikh – 34 goals
The Republic of Uzbekistan (Oʻzbekiston Respublikasi) is a doubly landlocked country situated in Central Asia, surrounded by five landlocked countries: Kazakhstan to the north, Kyrgyzstan to the northeast, Tajikistan to the southeast, Afghanistan to the south, and Turkmenistan to the southwest. Originally one of the central Asian socialist republics that was a part of the Soviet Union, the country gained its independence in 1991 as the USSR broke apart, and would subsequently become a full member of both FIFA and the AFC three years later in 1994.
Despite the former USSR being a member of UEFA, Uzbekistan and the other former Soviet Union central Asian countries joined the AFC (although northern neighbours Kazakhstan would later rejoin UEFA in 2002) and would later become members of the CAFA sub-confederation. Uzbekistan have had some modicum of success within Asian football having managed to qualify for every Asian Cup they have taken part in since their first campaign in 1996 – qualifying for the past seven consecutive Asian Cup tournaments. Their best performance came in the 2011 tournament when the White Wolves reached the semi-finals of the competition, but a 0-6 defeat to the defending Asian champions Australia was followed by a 2-3 defeat to South Korea in the third place playoff resulting in a fourth place finish for the Uzbeks. Alas Uzbekistan are known within Asian football for finding defeat from the jaws of victory, and there have been plenty of examples over the years where they have suffered more than their fair share of bad luck, especially when it comes to penalty shootouts. For example, in the 2019 Asian Cup, they took Australia to a goalless game in the second round before losing 2-4 in the shootout.
Despite having produced many excellent players over the years (and continue to do so), they have yet to qualify for any World Cup. They were incredibly unlucky in the qualification for the 2006 World Cup when they reached the qualification playoff and squared off against Bahrain, with the winner scheduled to take on CONCACAF’s Trinidad & Tobago for a place in Germany. They managed to win the first game 1-0, but because of a serious refereeing error, FIFA annulled the first game and ordered a replay, and subsequently the two draws in the two legs resulted in Bahrain progressing to the inter-confederation playoffs after they won on away goals after drawing 1-1 in the first leg at Tashkent. Nonetheless, there are hopes that the future of Uzbekistan football could be improving with an incredibly talented generation of footballers coming through into the senior level. Perhaps it’s time that Uzbekistan can rid themselves of their ‘bottler’ tag and finally become one of the powerhouses of Asian football, and potentially qualify for the 2022 World Cup…
Talking about potentially one of the most exciting teams within Asian football who have qualified for every Asian Cup since independence and are looking to become one of the powerhouses within the AFC confederation, we interviewed the brilliant Conor from Uzbek Football UK. Uzbek Football UK is an English language Twitter account based in the UK, which reports on all things involving Uzbek football, from the domestic league, the national team, to Uzbek players playing across the world. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @UzbekfootballUK
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Player: Maksim Shatskikh – He is still the national team’s top scorer with 34 goals in 61 games as well as being the joint all-time top scorer in the Ukrainian Premier League, and regularly played in the UEFA Champions League for Dynamo Kyiv for a good number of years. He is still likely the most recognised name in Uzbek football and clearly its most successful.
Manager: Vadim Abramov – He led Uzbekistan to their most successful attempt at a major tournament, that being reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 Asian Cup. Abramov is back as the national team manager for his second stint in charge and would cement his legendary status if he were able to lead the team to Qatar 2022.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
For me it would be Server Djeparov. He was an unbelievable talent in the days when Rivaldo, Zico, etc, were gracing the Uzbek Super League. Had an offer of a trial with Chelsea (which he was sadly blocked from attending) at one point and has won the AFC Asian Footballer of the Year award twice, still being the only Uzbek winner of the award. Also he had a mullet in like 2012…how could he not be a cult hero?
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Uzbekistan currently?
Eldor Shomurodov – The national team doesn’t look half as likely to score when he isn’t on the pitch. The Genoa player has scored 13 goals since 2019 alone after cementing his place in the team. Being the only Uzbek player playing in the ‘top 5’ leagues in Europe, is a clear sign of his quality and thus is a natural importance to a team like Uzbekistan.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
That’s a difficult question to answer as the team is currently top of their 2022 World Cup qualifying group but should be in a far more comfortable position due to some results which they should have prevented, e.g. suffering a last minute 3-2 loss to Saudi Arabia, and the 2-0 away defeat to Palestine. The team is very talented and is just going into a second ‘golden age‘, so the state of the team is one of yet to be fulfilled promise.
Q. Are there any Uzbek players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There are quite a few players if I’m honest. Oston Urunov (20 year-old midfielder on-loan at Russian side Ufa from Spartak Moscow) has impressed many during his time in the Russian Premier League. Jasurbek Jaloliddinov (18 year-old midfielder) is back in Uzbekistan with Andijon after an ill-fated time with Lokomotiv Moscow, but was featured in The Guardian‘s “Next Generation 2019” list and has time to make a second attempt at Europe in the coming years. Jasurbek Yakhshiboev (23 year-old right-winger) just got a big move to Polish giants Legia Warsaw after impressive performances in Belarus. Other players to watch out for are Oybek Bozorov (23 year-old forward at Nasaf), Ibrokhimkahlil Yuldoshev (20 year-old defender currently at Pakhtakor Tashkent) and Abduvohid Nematov (20 year-old goalkeeper currently at Nasaf).
Q. Looking at Uzbekistan’s short international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
It might not technically be an answer but I would suggest the 27th of January 2018 when the Uzbek under 23 side won the Asian U23 Championships. Uzbekistan are a footballling nation who have historically bottled many opportunities to win, so to see any Uzbek team of any age not bottle it and actually win was brilliant. Just incase that answer doesn’t count, then the easy answer would be the 2-1 win against Jordan in the 2011 Asian Cup.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Oh, where to start…? The controversial away goals loss in the World Cup playoffs against Bahrain for which victory would have seen them meet a beatable Trinidad and Tobago side for the chance to go to the 2006 World Cup. This loss will still sting for anyone involved in that match to this very day. Subsequent failures during their attempts to qualify for the 2014 and 2018 World Cups in games against Jordan [drawing 2-2 on aggregate but losing 8-9 on penalties] and South Korea [losing 1-2], which were caused by Uzbek errors both on the pitch and in terms of poor management decisions, caused the teams to crash out of qualifying.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Uzbek national team?
Well, you can never be called a ‘glory hunter’ for supporting Uzbekistan. The best thing I find is that everyone I have spoken to about Uzbek football, both on the national and domestic games, is kind, smart, and cares about the success of the team. The toxic nature of football which is found in bigger leagues or teams isn’t found with Uzbekistan. The worst thing is that Uzbekistan’s worst enemy is Uzbekistan. The team has such potential and talent but they often frustrate themselves by not doing well enough when it counts.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
As I do not speak Russian or Uzbek, I’m honestly not sure if they do. During most games, chants (if there are any) are drowned out by relentless drums.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
I do really like the current blue away shirt but the white shirt used during the 2011 Asian Cup would be the most iconic.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Uzbek national team?
It’s simply to qualify for a World Cup, and for the national team players to continue to play in bigger leagues for bigger teams, thus encouraging the development of football back in Uzbekistan.
A massive katta rahmat to Conor from Uzbek Football UK for answering our questions on the White Wolves. Remember you can find his excellent account in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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