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Football

AFC Asian Cup, India v Uzbekistan: Know your opponents - The White Wolves

Here is everything you need to know about India's next opponent, Uzbekistan, in the AFC Asian Cup 2023.

AFC Asian Cup, India v Uzbekistan: Know your opponents - The White Wolves
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By

John Mathew

Updated: 17 Jan 2024 12:51 PM GMT

The White Wolves. There will be an odd similarity in the nicknames for both sides when the Blue Tigers take on the White Wolves on Thursday, and this one is about to get lively. Both Uzbekistan and India come into their second Group B game in need of a result to go through. But that's just one of the few similarities among a plethora of differences between the sides.

Taken into the AFC in 1994, Uzbekistan's time at the top of Asia is not as long as India's. But, their work is like an iceberg - little to see outright, but with much more depth than many below the surface. Much like the Huma bird โ€” also called the 'bird of paradise' (seen in the state emblem of Uzbekistan), the football team's first flight set them in a picturesque scene; in their first tournament, the Asian Games of 1994, the Uzbeks shocked everyone to seek gold. When India finished in last place in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, the Uzbeks finished fourth โ€” their best run so far.

Another one of their rather not-so-professed achievement over the recent years is undoubtedly their grassroots development, and they are beginning to see its results.

All of the Uzbekistan youth sides are producing, developing and playing some wonderful football. Their youngsters are getting snapped up by big-name clubs and are touted worldwide as some of the world's best youngsters.

The Uzbek U20 is the reigning Asian champions and went to the Round of 16 in the 2023 U20 FIFA World Cup. Their U17 and U23 teams came close to being champions of Asia in their recent tournament, with the U17 side even going into the quarter-finals of the recent youth World Cup, only losing out to eventual finalists France by a single goal.

While the UFA continues to make attempts to improve the youth setup at a national level, the clubs take their due responsibility in moulding youngsters for the future.

Uzbekistan U20 lifting the AFC Asian U20 Championship - Image via FIFA

Speaking of Uzbek clubs, they're no surprise elements to Indian clubs as many probably remember. In 2021, Mohun Bagan was thrashed by FC Nasaf 6-0 in an AFC Cup inter-zonal semi-finals. Mumbai City was beaten both home and away by Navbahor Namangan in this year's AFC Champions League. Similarly, the Indian national team too has not had a great amount of success against the Uzbeks, having played 6 games (since 1997) and not having won any.

However, the Uzbeks were dealt a heavy blow in their campaign even before they could take to the field, even before they could announce the squad. Eldor Shomurodov, the Uzbek all-time leading top scorer currently playing in Serie-A for Cagliari, was ruled out of the competition due to injury. Now, after the draw against Syria which saw a blunt Uzbek attack succumb to the defensive resilience of the Syrians, they missed their talisman more than ever.

With that said, Shomurodov is not just the only danger-man that the 26-man Uzbek squad boasts. Here are a few select players you should probably keep an eye on.

Abbosbek Fayzullaev (#22) - Winger/Attacking-Midfielder - CSKA Moscow

Abbosbek Fayzullaev - Image via FIFA

Probably the most exciting player Uzbekistan has in store, Fayzullaev is considered one of the finest talents breaking through from Asia. Coming through Pakhtakor's academy, he rose to prominence at the recent AFC U20 Asian Championship where he was the Most Valued Player (MVP), while Uzbekistan was crowned champions. Following this performance, he earned himself a move to Russian giants CSKA Moscow. He has managed 2 goals and 4 assists in around 9 full-time appearances for the Russian side and is one of the finest creators in the league.

Diminutive and exciting, Fayzullaev generates moments of brilliance with the ball. The 20-year-old was also adjudged the Uzbek Footballer of the Year in 2023.

Abdukodir Khusanov (#25) - center-back - RC Lens

A. Khusanov - Image via Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport

A 19-year-old centre-back from an AFC nation playing 4 games in a European top-five league and some game time in the UEFA Champions League is surprising.

A product of Bunyodkor's academy, Khusanov too was part of the squad that won the U20 Asian Championships and shortly won himself a move from Belarus to France, to the team that gave PSG a run for the Ligue 1 title last season.

Lens may have regressed since then, but their idea of trusting in youth is still progressing with Khusanov being one of the finest examples. Having played the full game against Syria as a right centre-back, he is key to the progression of possession from defence to upfield. Towering in at 187cm at 19 already, he is a big lad and will cause the Indian attack some headaches, both with and without the ball.

Jaloliddin Masharipov (#10 and Captain) - Attacker - Panserraikos

J. Masharipov - Image via Association of football Uzbekistan

Cristiano Ronaldo's teammate in the Saudi Pro League a few months back, Masharipov has now been handed the leader's role, not at Al Nassr, but for his nation. In the absence of Shomurodov, he is the main man of Uzbekistan.

The third most capped player in the squad, he is the veteran head of attack who has been vested with creative responsibilities as well. Past his peak for a bit now, but with a great bag of experience, at 30 this could be one of his final big tournaments for the White Wolves and he would hope to be the one that leads the side into the deeper phases of the tournament.

Played as the left-sided attacking midfielder in Uzbekistan's (on paper) 3-4-2-1 formation, he generated the most threat for his side through his creative passes but to no avail. Often exchanging roles with Sayfiev (Left Wing-back), Masharipov is capable of functioning from far wide as well; but not at the efficiency a younger self would have. His free role allows him to receive in between the lines, on the turn, to face and break opponent defences.

Uzbekistan may have had a poor start for the standard they have set themselves, but it is still a battle for India to scrape out a result. When the 10th-best-ranked AFC nation plays the 19th-ranked team, there's bound to be a difference in levels.

They're no Australia but it remains an uphill battle for the Blue Tigers nonetheless, and a positive result is the need of the hour as India does need to open their points account to better the chances of progressing past the group stage.

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