Travesty of Tashkent drives Uzbek 2014 World Cup bid
South Korea's Kwak Tae-Hwi (back) fight for the ball with Uzbekistan's Bakaev Ulugbek, during their 2014 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier, in Seoul, on June 11, 2013. Uzbekistan will seek atonement for a notorious incident which remains one of the dark episodes of Asian football when they head into a crunch World Cup play-off against Jordan on Friday.
The Uzbeks 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, the last time the White Wolves reached this stage, when they 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.
But instead of ordering a retake, referee Toshimitsu Yoshida made the mistake of giving Uzbekistan an indirect free-kick.
And 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 Uzbek team, can lay the ghosts of that incident to rest and bring the land-locked, oil-rich country a step closer to their first World Cup.
Together with Anzhi Makhachkala midfielder Odil Ahmedov and dependable striker Alexander Geynrikh, the Uzbeks 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," said Ahmedov, 27.
"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."
The Uzbeks will find it tough away against Hossam Hassan's Jordan, who went unbeaten in Amman during the final round of qualifying, 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," said Hassan, who played for Egypt at the 1990 World Cup.
"I like to see them as two halves of a single match, since the day after the home leg in Amman we fly to Tashkent to play the away leg just four days later."
Uzbekistan won 2-1 when the teams last met, in the quarter-finals of the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar.
Asian teams have a poor record in intercontinental qualifiers, however, with no successes since Iran's 1998 win against Australia.
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