Uzbekistan can take a huge step toward becoming the first Central Asian team to reach the World Cup when they host Jordan in the second leg of their Asian playoff today.
The Uzbeks brought home a precious away goal from last week’s 1-1 draw, giving them the edge as they seek to reach an intercontinental showdown against a team from South America.
Uzbekistan have been this far before, only to see their hopes dashed by some bizarre officiating in the 2005 playoffs against Bahrain.
However, Friday’s draw in Amman, where Jordan beat Asian giants Japan and Australia earlier in qualifying, has raised hopes of better luck this time for the “White Wolves.”
“We achieved the minimum goal and now I believe we will do our job in Tashkent and qualify for the next round,” Uzbek coach Mirdjalal Kasimov said.
“It will be decided in Tashkent, but with our supporters we will play for them and I believe we will qualify,” he added, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Web site.
Kasimov was among the players in 2005 when Uzbekistan, 1-0 up against Bahrain in the first leg in Tashkent, had a successful penalty-kick chalked off for encroachment.
Instead of a retake, referee Toshimitsu Yoshida mistakenly gave an indirect free-kick, and when Uzbekistan protested after the game, FIFA surprisingly annulled the Uzbeks’ 1-0 win.
Bahrain drew the replay 1-1 and went on to win the tie on away goals, losing out to Trinidad and Tobago for a berth at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
RIGHT THE WRONG
Now Kasimov has the chance to right that wrong with a team including captain Server Djeparov, Uzbekistan’s scorer in Amman and a two-time Asian player of the year, as well as Anzhi Makhachkala midfielder Odil Ahmedov.
Progression at Pakhtakor Stadium would be a proud moment for the unglamorous, landlocked nation, sandwiched between Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan in a row of former Soviet states.
Uzbekistan have long been one of Asia’s better sides and they reached the 2011 Asian Cup semi-finals before being walloped 6-0 by Australia.
However, Jordan’s coach Hossam Hassan, who saw action at the 1990 World Cup as a striker with Egypt, is hoping the desert kingdom can still poach victory in the tough away tie.
“It is still half-time and we will play the second game in Tashkent on Tuesday [today],” he said.
The winners are to face the fifth-placed team from South American qualifying, a position currently occupied by Uruguay, who have three games left to play.