AFC Asian Cup: Blue Tigers look to stay afloat against powerful Uzbeks

Sunil Chhetri and his men are at the bottom of Group B after the first round of matches

Central defender Sandesh Jhingan in action against Australia in India's first game (photo: AIFF)
Central defender Sandesh Jhingan in action against Australia in India's first game (photo: AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s after a healthy five-day break since their 2-0 loss to Australia that the Blue Tigers resume their campaign in the AFC Asian Cup against Uzbekistan on Thursday. Going by their head coach Igor Stimac’s words, the ‘real tournament’ begins for them now.  

No prizes for guessing that India’s chances of progressing to the second round of the tournament hinge on their results against Uzbekistan and Syria — the remaining teams in Group B — as no one was really betting on India to pull off a miracle against the Socceroos. Now at the bottom of the group after Uzbekistan and Syria played out a goalless draw on Sunday, India's match at Doha's Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium tomorrow (kick off 8.00 pm IST) is hence a battle to stay in the tournament. 

‘’Uzbekistan are no Australia but they are a good side nonetheless. So it will be a big challenge in that game too,’’ captain Sunil Chhetri said a day after their defeat to Australia as he wanted his boys to shake off an inevitable result and look forward. It will not be easy against the tall and often physical central Asians, ranked 34 places ahead of India at 68, with as many as three quarter-final appearances in the past, and a fourth-place finish.

There is quite a possibility of an additional forward or an attacking midfielder coming into the eleven to lend more muscle to the breakaways, as the aim should be full points rather than a draw. Speaking in a recent interview, Stimac showed full respect to the Uzbeks: ‘’Uzbekistan are very strong both physically and technically. They had impressive performances in recent preparatory matches against Russia, Bolivia and Kazakhstan. Still, we believe that there is a chance.’’  Much like the Australia game, Chhetri and his men can once again rely on crowd support from the Indian diaspora. However, the onus will be on them to see that the fans return home happy this time.   

FAQs about Uzbekistan   

Team nickname: White Wolves
FIFA ranking:

AFC Asian Cup records (quarter-finals and beyond): 2004: quarter-finals; 2007: quarter-finals; 2011: fourth place; 2015: quarter-finals 

Head coach: Srecko Katanec (Slovenia)

India vs Uzbekistan head-to-head: 8 matches: India won 1 lost 5 drawn 2; goals scored 6; goals conceded 14 

Key players 

Igor Vladimirovich Sergeyev (forward): Sergeyev is a natural striker with power and precision who scored several key goals for his national team. An automatic choice of almost every national coach, the former Pakhtakor Tashkent star has appeared for his country 69 times so far and is expected to be one of the mainstays of the team.  

Abbosbek Fayzullaev (midfielder): The 20-year-old burst on to the scene soon after making his mark for the Uzbekistan U20 and U23 sides. In the AFC U20 Asian Cup, Fayzullaev bagged the most valuable player award with an impressive display. In Doha, the youngster, who plays for CSKA Moscow, could play a key role in Uzbekistan’s campaign. 

Oston Urunov (midfielder): Indian fans following Mumbai City FC got a taste of Urunov’s impact in the midfield for Navbahor FC during the AFC Champions League campaign. Having made his debut for the national team in 2019, the 23-year-old has become an integral part of Katanec’s squad because of his ability to adapt to the situation during difficult times on the pitch.

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