Tashkent: As Asia’s next generation of football stars await Thursday’s AFC U-19 Championship draw, hosts Uzbekistan are aiming for nothing less than the title of champions.
The draw, to be conducted at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, will separate the 16 qualified nations into four groups ahead of October’s final tournament, and Uzbekistan will be a team many will hope to avoid, should they live up to head coach Timur Kapadze’s expectations.
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Having amassed 119 caps during a stellar international career and winning a staggering 13 league titles in club football, the 38-year-old has ample experience to draw upon, and he hopes to engineer similar success as a coach.
“As a player who had a long and successful career, I am sharing my experience and knowledge with these young players, and I hope it can benefit them,” Kapadze told the-AFC.com.
“Of course, I prefer attacking play, but it does not mean our side will be formed with an attacking style. It must be also matched with players’ skills and technical ability.
“I think we have tactically and technically strong players, so there will be no barriers to balance attacking and defensive football in different formations. In this way, we aim to win the tournament as hosts.”
While their preparations have ramped up with a training camp over the past week, Uzbekistan’s status as tournament host has not granted them immunity from the scheduling turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Planned competitions and friendly matches were shelved as part of a restructured preparation, but Kapadze believes his players can still arrive fully prepared when the tournament begins in four months.
“We returned to training sessions in our camp last week,” said Kapadze, whose side defeated third-tier club Neftgazmontaj 1-0 in a friendly match on Monday.
“I think we still have enough time and it is possible to prepare almost perfectly for the AFC U-19 Championship.
“A lot of our plans were hit by the coronavirus outbreak, so it disrupted friendly matches with foreign teams at home and abroad. We are planning to play friendlies against local clubs.
“However, we may organise training camps and have an opportunity to play against foreign teams in August and September, if the situation allows.”
One particularly promising player not participating in the current training camp is Jasurbek Jaloliddinov, the 18-year-old midfielder who has already been capped at senior level and is considered an important first-team player at FC Bunyodkor.
His talents won him Uzbekistan’s Young Player of the Year Award last season, and he has been linked with a move to big name clubs beyond his homeland, but Kapadze believes Jaloliddinov is one of several talented players emerging in the country.
“There are always talented young players in national teams and a number of them have been called up to the U-19 Uzbekistan team,” four-time AFC Asian Cup participant Kapadze declared.
“Of course, Jasur Jaloliddinov is surprising us with his current form. We are watching his games for FC Bunyodkor and he has also played for the Uzbekistan national team.
“Similarly, Khojimat Erkinov is also becoming one of our key players by improving his experience. He played well enough for his club last year. I think he will manage to be in good shape until the end of the season.”
There are seven former AFC U-19 Championship winners among the nations in Thursday’s draw, including 2018 champions Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic, who have won the competition a record 12 times.
Uzbekistan’s best ever showing at the tournament came in 2008, when a squad featuring Islom Tukhtakhujaev and Fozil Musaev were defeated by United Arab Emirates in the final in Dammam.
Photos: Uzbekistan Football Association, AFC
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