With a strong squad and experienced head coach, Uzbekistan could be one of the dark horse nations at the Asian Cup and potentially pose a tricky proposition for Australia in group B.
With a relentlessly attacking and aggressive playstyle that should not be underestimated by the Socceroos, the Uzbeks will make for entertaining viewing when they kick of the Asian Cup campaign at 4:30am on Sunday morning against Syria.
Listen to the A-Leagues of Our Own podcast for a full preview of all three of Australia’s group stage opponents.
Uzbekistan made their first appearance at the Asian Cup back in 1996, where they defeated China in their first match. However their other games, against Japan and Syria, resulted in losses.
Despite a poor first outing, they have established themselves as a mainstay of the Asian Cup, having never failed to qualify for the competition since.
In fact, from 2004 to 2019, Uzbekistan made 5 consecutive knockout round appearances.
Their greatest effort in the tournament came in 2011 when the White Wolves finished in fourth place, falling to Australia in the semi finals.
Unfortunately, continental success has yet to amount to much on the international stage, Uzbekistan having failed to qualify for the World Cup in each of their eight attempts.
The Socceroos have only crossed paths with Uzbekistan on three other occassions.
The first meeting was in World Cup qualifying in 2008, an early goal enough to see Australia take the three points.
The return match in Sydney also didn’t bring much joy for Uzbekistan, as the hosts netted two to secure the double.
Facing each other in the Round of 16 at the 2019 Asian Cup, Uzbekistan were able to hold on to a nil-nil draw through regular and extra time.
However, Australia won 4-2 on penalties, and saw off a gritty and determined performance from the Turanians.
Uzbekistan heads into this edition of the Asian Cup off the back of a strong qualifying performance, winning all three of their games against Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
The side saw a solid run of form last year which included an entertaining two-all draw in a World Cup qualification match against Iran.
In that game, Uzbekistan played a very aggressive brand of football, their midfield tended to sit quite high when in possession to help the forwards.
However, it was double-edged sword as it limited the team’s ability to play out from the back, putting a lot of onus on the defenders to play long balls.
Because of this attack-first mentality, Uzbekistan was highly vulnerable on the counter. Their goalkeeping was also particularly suspect.
Iran’s first goal wasn’t a particularly exciting finish, as the ball managed to squeeze its way between the keeper’s legs after a weak shot from inside the box.
This weakness is one that teams could exploit, as Uzbekistan’s squad features three goalkeepers with only 31 caps between them.
It’s not all bad for Uzbekistan, though. The team excelled in counter attacking phases, using their pace to get in behind Iran’s defence.
They also have the ability to break down low block defences using their physicality and strength.
This could make it quite difficult for teams who look to play defensively, or who are looking to hold onto a result.
Uzbekistan had a warmup friendly in Qatar a few days ago, where they beat Palestine one-nil.
Take from that result what you will, but this side could prove to be a very exciting, attacking threat.
Players to Watch
There are a couple of players in Uzbekistan’s squad that spectators should keep an eye out for.
The first is Jaloliddin Masharipov, a 30-year-old attacking midfielder who currently plays for Panserraikos in Greece.
Masharipov can play across the midfield, but favours the left side when featuring for Uzbekistan.
He has a quality delivery from wide areas, and represents a threat from set pieces and corners.
Masharipov gained a reputation as an assist king when he played in Uzbekistan, providing 20 assists for his teammates in 2020.
The squad also features an exciting 19-year-old prospect called Abdukodir Khusanov, who currently plays for RC Lens in France’s Ligue 1.
He has made appearances in the Champions League this season, featuring off the bench against Arsenal and Sevilla.
While he may struggle to find opportunities to start, Khusanov is a player that will look to make the most of the minutes he does see.
It’d be remiss not to also mention the Uzbekistan Football Association’s reigning player of the year, Abbosbek Fayzullaev.
He’s an attacking midfielder, with eight goal contributions in 13 games for CSKA Moscow this season.
At just 20 years old he’s had an immediate impact for his country, with eight caps and two goals.
Manager in Focus
Uzbekistan’s head coach is former Slovenian defender Srečko Katanec, who has a decent record as the head coach of underdog international teams.
He was at the helm when Slovenia made their first ever appearance at the European Championships in 2000 and then went on to lead them to the 2002 World Cup group stages.
More recently, Katanec headed the Iraqi team at the 2019 Asian Cup.
Under his guidance, Iraq made it out of the group stages, before falling to eventual champions Qatar in the Round of 16.
In August 2021, he signed a four-year deal with Uzbekistan, where he has been ever since.
Uzbekistan’s ruthless attacking nature should see them cause too many problems for the others in Group B and could be a surprising challenge for Australia’s defence.
With their streak of six consecutive knockout appearances at the Asian Cup, and Katanec’s history of successfully guiding underdog nations, Uzbekistan could be a dark horse for a deep run.
The White Wolves are likely the favourites to finish second in the group, earning a Round of 16 matchup against the Group F runner up and comfortably making the quarter finals.