Uzbekistan will seek atonement for a notorious incident which remains one of the dark episodes of Asian soccer when they head into a crunch World Cup playoff against Jordan today.
Uzbekistan go into the two-legged tie with the aim of becoming the first Central Asian team to reach the World Cup. The winner will face a South American side for a place at Brazil 2014.
However, memories endure of eight years ago, when the White Wolves last reached this stage and were widely seen as being robbed of victory by some calamitous officiating.
Leading Bahrain 1-0 in the first leg in Tashkent, Uzbekistan were awarded a penalty which Server Djeparov successfully converted, only to have it disallowed for encroachment.
However, instead of ordering a retake, referee Toshimitsu Yoshida made the mistake of giving Uzbekistan an indirect free-kick. When Uzbekistan appealed against the decision after the match, FIFA incomprehensibly ordered a replay, wiping out Uzbekistan’s 1-0 win. They drew the replay 1-1 and went on to lose the tie.
“Everyone was very angry and it was a tragedy for the country,” Bobby Houghton, Uzbekistan’s coach at the time, was quoted as saying last year.
This week, Djeparov, now a two-time Asian player of the year and a fulcrum of the Uzbekistan team, can lay the ghosts of that incident to rest and bring the landlocked, oil-rich country a step closer to their first World Cup.
Along with Anzhi Makhachkala midfielder Odil Ahmedov and dependable striker Alexander Geynrikh, Uzbekistan are a force to be reckoned with and they only missed out on automatic qualification on goal-difference.
“We know that our people want us to qualify and whatever it takes, and with God’s help, we will make that dream come true,” Ahmedov, 27, said. “We have a golden opportunity against Jordan. If we win, we’ll take on a team from South America, so we have four decisive matches in which to get to the World Cup.”
Uzbekistan will find it tough away against Hossam Hassan’s Jordan, who went unbeaten in Amman in the final round of qualifiera, including wins against Asian giants Japan and Australia.
On the flipside, they lost all four of their away games so a positive result at the King Abdullah International Stadium is essential if Jordan hope to secure their first World Cup berth.
“We know that this won’t be easy. That’s why we have to set out clear targets that we want to meet during the two legs,” Hassan said.
Asian teams have a poor record in intercontinental qualifiers, with no successes since Iran’s 1998 win against Australia.