Tajikistan take the Socceroos to prime time

While there might only be three registered Tajiks living in South Australia, The Persian Lions will be supported by as many as three million when they step onto Adelaide Oval to face an Australia side expected to swat aside the Asian minnows.


Tajikistan fans packed the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against the Socceroos last September Source: Getty Images

On 1 March this year a new high definition sports channel was launched, meaning the match between Australia and the Tajikistan national team will be one of the first away matches to be broadcast on television.

“It’s the first channel in HD channel in our country,” Ulugbek Karimov, Head of National Teams at the Tajikistan Football Federation, told the assembled media in Adelaide on Wednesday.

“In our country half of the population will be watching this channel, it’s like three million people is watching, so for us there will be a little pressure because previously we used to play away and there wasn’t any broadcast.”

Watching the national team home or away is a comfort taken for granted by football supporters in Australia, so the fact this is such a significant development in Tajikistan only highlights the vast gap that exists between the two countries - on and off the park.

Success for the Tajik’s has been few and far between, with an appearance at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup arguably their biggest achievement, with the 2006 AFC Challenge Cup victory a close second.

Three members of that 2007 U-17 team are in the squad for the match against the Socceroos while another, Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev, who with 48 appearances is their most capped player, has been left at home.

“He is one of the key players from our squad,” coach Mubin Ergashev told the Australian media on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately we decided to leave him in Tajikistan because for this period he is not in the best form. So we will try to play without him.”

That presents an opportunity for a young player to step up and Ergashev is bullish about the next generation coming through. Especially after Tajikistan's youth side qualified for the AFC U-19 Championships, held in Bahrain in October, for the first time since 2008.

“Now our team have a changing generation,” he said.

“We brought with the team one of the players from the U-19 team (Jahongir Aliev) and probably tomorrow he will be playing.

“We are really paying attention to the grassroots, the youth football and now football in our country is developing and hopefully we want to have a good generation of young football players.”

For a country such as Tajikistan, it is small steps rather than giant leaps that are being made.

Tajikistan's qualification for the AFC U19 Championships is seen as a significant achievement for the central Asian nation.

“It’s really significant for us,” Karimov told The World Game. “Our U-19 team will be a team in the Premier League during this year and in October hopefully they are going to be in a good shape.

“Obviously we understand there are going to be 15 (other) teams; it will be difficult for us."

In a further promising sign, Tajikistan only missed qualification for the 2016 U-16 AFC Championships on goals scored, after wins against Turkmenistan and Qatar in qualifying.

“We want to see our teams like U-16, U-19, U-23, we want them to qualify each time, this is our aim,” Karimov said.

Such is their focus on the grassroots, the TFF were awarded the AFC President Recognition Award for Grassroots Football at the 2014 AFC Annual Awards in Manilla.

With support from the AFC and FIFA, they are looking to overcome many of the obstacles they face.

“It’s a little bit difficult the financial situation, our country is not that rich,” Karimov explained.

“We have difficulties in infrastructure, we have some difficulties with youth coaching. But we are working on that, FIFA are helping us, AFC also.

“We are building some pitches, we are attending some programs and hopefully together we are going to solve these problems and achieve some success.”

The installation of a synthetic pitch at the Central Republican Stadium is one such project, and after dedicating 2014 to grassroots football they want the focus in 2016 to be on infrastructure.

At club level FC Istiqlol, winners of the Tajik League for the past two years, came within a whisker of winning the second-tier AFC Cup last year, losing 1-0 to Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta’zim in the final in Dushanbe after having three goals disallowed for off-side during the match.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t get that cup, we wanted it so much,” Karimov said.

“It was a big step for us. It was a big, big event for us to hold the final in Dushanbe.

“It was a big day but unfortunately we couldn’t get that cup. Hopefully in the near future we are going to prepare a good team to get that cup.”

For now the focus is on the Socceroos and the herculean challenge the Asian champions present.

While they’ll be well and truly outnumbered in the stands in Adelaide, Tajikistan can take to the pitch knowing, for one of the few times in their history, their country will be watching.

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5 min read
Published 24 March 2016 at 11:54am
By Paul Williams
Source: SBS