x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Uzbekistan football team have a chance to restore their pride

Vadim Abramov's side will be looking to put their 6-0 humiliation from Australia in the Asian Cup behind them when they meet South Korea in the third place-play off match.

Dejected Uzbekistan players leave the field after their 6-0 semi-final mauling at the hands of Australia on Tuesday.
Dejected Uzbekistan players leave the field after their 6-0 semi-final mauling at the hands of Australia on Tuesday.

The third-place match in the Asian Cup is not a pointless exercise. The winner today secures a berth in the next staging of the tournament, an enticement typically sufficient to put a little bounce back in the step of disappointed semi-final losers.

That fillip, however, may not be nearly enough to revive the Uzbekistan side, who suffered the heaviest knockout-round defeat in Asian Cup history, a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Australia on Tuesday.

Had the Uzbeks been given a choice in the matter, they may have taken the next plane out of Qatar, as long as it was not bound for the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent.

They probably would have preferred an even more exotic destination, where they could disappear into a crowd of people who were not intimately familiar with their humiliation in Doha.

If misery and despair could take human form, they would have looked rather like Vadim Abramov, the Uzbek coach, and Azizbek Haydarov, the midfielder, did yesterday as they sat before the media only 36 hours after a defeat so comprehensive that historians were thumbing through the archives to find one comparable.

"First of all, I want to apologise to the Uzbek people," were the first words out of Haydarov's mouth. This was just before Abramov added, "I want to say again to Uzbekistan, I am very sorry."

The Uzbeks had sailed into the semi-finals on the strength of two goals per match for four consecutive games, a success rate that yielded three victories and a draw, as well as many impressed observers and their first semi-final appearance in a senior international competition.

Then, as the Uzbek football site fk.uz put it: "0-6!! … No comment!"

The Australians, who had failed to score more than one goal in their three previous matches, were sharp, scoring twice in the first half. But their last three goals came against an Uzbek side that seemed to have surrendered, a craven exhibition that drove their previously enthusiastic fans out of Khalifa Stadium long before the final whistle.

"That game, it was 2-0, then 3-0, and then we get a red card, and I think some players, you know, they know they have lost the game and some players don't want to play," Abramov said. "They don't want to play; it was a loss of discipline."

The abject failure came just as Uzbekistan, an arid central Asia country of 27 million people, braced for a berth in the Asian Cup final, which would have compared favourably with the greatest sports achievements in the two-decade history of the breakaway Soviet republic. The Under 23 football team had won the Asian Games gold in 1994; Ruslan Chagaev held the WBA heavyweight boxing championship for all of 2008; Djamolidine Abdoujaparov won the sprint championship of three Tours de France in the 1990s.

This probably would have topped them all. Instead, embarrassment, and not the first for Uzbek footballers. They lost 8-1 to Japan and 5-0 to Saudi Arabia in the group stage at the 2000 Asian Cup.

Tokuaki Suzuki, the tournament director, denied that a 6-0 result in a semi-final reflected badly on Asian football. "We are not disappointed because these things happen in football," he said. "They got behind, they opened themselves up and they were punished."

He added: "These things happen in World Cup knockout games, too, to teams like England and Argentina," referring to England's 4-1 defeat by Germany and Argentina's 4-0 loss to the same opponent at South Africa 2010.

Neither of those, however, were 6-0. To find a similar World Cup result in a non-first-round game, one must go back to 1978, when Argentina defeated Peru 6-0.

Though their sour expressions and defeated body language said otherwise, the coach and player said the team would be ready to play today for their international reputation as well as third place, with South Korea providing the opposition.

"Perhaps the players can forget," Abramov said. "I won't forget; I store it away because I am the coach. But the players are young and perhaps they can forget."

Haydarov said: "I ask Uzbek supporters to stay with us. I know it is very difficult after zero-6, and I am very sorry. But I promise the next game … we can show it was just hard luck."

Abramov added: "Now we have another chance. It's better to play another game, and play our best game and win, and maybe people will forget about this game, 6-0."



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