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New faces join old guard in Uzbekistan squad

Tashkent: Uzbekistan will take a mixture of youth and experience to Palestine for their opening FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers fixture next month, after head coach Hector Cuper named a 24-man squad on Thursday.

The White Wolves – ranked 84th in the world and 10th in Asia – will meet the Palestinians at Al Ram Stadium on September 5 in the first step of their bid to reach a maiden senior World Cup.

Veterans such as captain Odil Ahmedov (pictured above), 31, and defender Anzur Ismailov ,34, will be joined by the likes of 18-year-old Lokomotiv midfielder Oston Urunov, with 21-year-old Aziz Ganiev the youngest of a host of players in their early 20s.

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But while some of Cuper’s players are embarking on a World Cup qualifying campaign for the first time, there will be plenty of familiar faces for fans of the Uzbekistan Super League.

Fifteen of the 24-man squad are provided by either league leaders FC Pakhtakor or defending champions PFC Lokomotiv, with only five coming from outside the domestic game, including Malaysia-based midfielder Sanjar Shoahmedov, who returns to the national team after a three-year absence.

The overseas contingent also includes in-form striker Eldor Shomurodov (pictured below, left), who has lit up the early stages of the Russian Premier League with four goals in five matches for FC Rostov.

Shomurodov has also been irresistible at international level in 2019, scoring four times at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, and adding another three since for a tally of seven goals in eight matches this year.

Sardor Rashidov is arguably the most notable absentee from Cuper’s squad, with the 48-cap forward yet to return to feature in the national line-up since the AFC Asian Cup in January, while Uzbekistan will start a World Cup qualifying campaign without goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov for the first time in over a decade.

Uzbekistan’s second Asian Qualifiers fixture is a home game against Yemen on October 10, with Saudi Arabia and Singapore rounding out Group D.

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