Tashkent: It seems that every time Uzbekistan excel in Asia's FIFA World Cup preliminaries, a new star emerges.
Alexander Geynrikh was the player who dazzled in their Germany 2006 campaign, striking four times as his side stormed all the way through to the Asian play-off - only to lose out, heartbreakingly, to Bahrain on away goals. Then national legend Maksim Shatskikh rose to the occasion on the road to South Africa 2010, racking up eight goals to fire his side to the final qualifying round.
The Central Asians also came close in the Brazil 2014 preliminaries being edged out by Korea Republic on goal difference and, on that occasion, captain Server Djeparov led by example with outstanding performances that included four goals.
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Now, that baton has been handed to Eldor Shomurodov, who has struck six goals across five outings to leave Uzbekistan sitting atop Group D in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023. And despite seeing his country fall at the final hurdle time and again, the in-form striker firmly believes that this campaign can be different – and yield their first-ever FIFA World Cup.
"Qualifying for the World Cup is very important for the team, the country and me personally," the 24-year-old FC Rostov forward told FIFA.com in a recent interview.
"Thirty-four million Uzbek people have been dreaming about the World Cup for so many years. I want to play my part in that process because achieving [World Cup qualification] will make a big impact to the game in our country.
"It’s true we’ve come so close on several occasions," he added. "But we failed when it mattered the most. Now the entire nation is waiting for us [to make history] and I hope this time we can make it and do our people proud."
Standing 190 cm tall, Shomurodov has maintained an impressive scoring rate throughout the Asian Qualifiers campaign. He opened his account in a 5-0 defeat of Yemen before netting a double in their 3-1 victory in Singapore, and was again on target against the formidable Saudi Arabia – albeit in a 3-2 defeat.
Despite this disappointment, however, Shomurodov bagged another brace as Uzbekistan downed Palestine 2-0 to move top of their section.
The striker attributes his development to a pair of striking legends from whom he has drawn inspiration.
"I used to watch the games of Fernando Torres (pictured above) and Didier Drogba as a kid," he revealed.
"I admire Torres so much for his style of play and I like Drogba for his confident performance on the pitch. I have been working hard to become a striker like they were.”
As with so many other international stars, Shomurodov first came to global attention at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, starring for his country at the 2015 edition in New Zealand. He scored twice in that tournament as Uzbekistan caused something of an upset by reaching the last eight.
"It was incredible experience," he reflected. "Those two goals especially helped boost my self-confidence. I can say that tournament has lasting importance for me."
Having since scored 19 goals from 42 senior international appearances, young Shomurodov is already his country's seventh-highest international scorer - 15 shy of Shatskikh. And the aspirant doesn’t hide his ambition of surpassing Uzbekistan's all-time leading marksman.
"As a forward, the most important is to score as many goals as possible, to be helpful to the team and make the fans happy," he stated firmly.
"I want to score in every game I play. My dream is to become the best goalscorer in the history of Uzbekistan’s national team. I will do my best to achieve this goal."
Sources: FIFA.com, AFC, AFP
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