AFC Asian Cup 2023: Uzbekistan team preview, squad, previous performance, key players

Ahead of India’s Asian Cup group B match against Uzbekistan, Sportstar analyses the the Central Asian team.

Published : Jan 17, 2024 18:19 IST , CHENNAI - 7 MINS READ

Uzbekistan players before their AFC Asian Cup match against Syria.
Uzbekistan players before their AFC Asian Cup match against Syria. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Uzbekistan players before their AFC Asian Cup match against Syria. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

A team that shows a lot of promise every time it steps onto the field, the White Wolves, as the Uzbekistan national team is called, will once again have a lot of expectations placed on its shoulders in the AFC Asian Cup 2023. Having already firmly established itself as one of the teams to beat in Central Asia – it finished runners-up in the 2023 CAFA Nations Cup – the White Wolves will be looking to become pan-Asian champions for the first time.


The national team underwent a period of experimenting with its managers between 2018 to 2021. A disappointing and worryingly expensive stint for Hector Cuper between 2018 and 2019, followed by local coach Vadhim Abramov’s positive avant-garde approach, didn’t provide the required results.

It was clear that the attacking-oriented mindset both these coaches advocated for was not working, and the appointment of a new manager with a different approach was imminent. There came Srecko Katanec. The 60-year-old’s calm and pragmatic demeanour seemed like a better fit for the team and the fans who had grown up with a cautious, defence-first mentality.

AFC Asian Cup: Uzbekistan preview
Previous AFC Asian Cup appearances: 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019
Best Finish: Fourth place (2011)
AFC Asian Cup record: W12, L11, D4
Goals scored: 42
Biggest Win: 5-0 vs Malaysia (2007)
Fixtures: vs Syria (January 13), vs India (January 18), vs Australia (January 23)

As someone who disapproved of the ‘modern way of football in which all teams like to press’ as he was quoted saying in 2022, the Slovenian’s philosophy of playing the waiting game instead has been working wonders so far.

Ever since taking charge in August 2021, Katanec’s record as manager has been impressive – notably a runners-up finish in the 2023 CAFA Nations Cup and a 3-3 draw against Mexico in a friendly. This upward scale under Katanec has shown even in the rankings.

Before the Slovenian took charge, the White Wolves were ranked outside the top ten in Asia, but following a turnaround in performances in the last two years, the team now ranks ninth. The White Wolves have also averaged more than two points per game under him, and in the last two years have never lost to a lower FIFA-ranked side. Going by that logic, Uzbekistan should comfortably progress to the knockout stages of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup – the team is the second-highest-ranked side in its group, only behind Australia (25). Goals have also come aplenty – the team has scored 12 goals in the last five games, while only conceding five goals. Moreover, the Slovenian’s impact has been manifold with the youth program also undergoing significant development.

This focus on driving quality and talent at a younger age group has borne fruit since – be it the quarterfinal appearance in the U17 World Cup, the 2023 U20 AFC Asian Cup triumph, or the run to the U23 Asian Cup final in 2022. At the domestic level, the recently formed Olympic FC has become a hothouse for talent and the youth international team in all. Though his current contract expires in 2025, a long-term contract is definitely on the cards for the fan-favourite manager if he can guide his team to victory in the AFC Asian Cup.

 Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec (L) during the Asian Cup
 Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec (L) during the Asian Cup | Photo Credit: REUTERS

 Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec (L) during the Asian Cup | Photo Credit: REUTERS


Although a strong showing in the upcoming AFC Asian Cup will be the primary focus, the bigger picture is the World Cup qualification.

The AFC Asian Cup is a tournament where the White Wolves have already proven themselves. The team has qualified for every single edition of the tournament to date and has also made it to the knockout stages of the tournament on the last five occasions, which includes a best-ever fourth-place finish in 2011.

Contrary to this impressive showing in the Asian circuit, Uzbekistan’s story with World Cup qualification has been a melancholic affair. Not once has the Central Asian team made it to the World Cup.

The competition in the World Cup qualifiers is similar to the Asian Cup, but the team has fallen agonisingly short in its seven previous attempts. For instance, in the 2018 qualifiers, the team missed out on a place by just 2 points while in 2014, it lost in the fifth round in a match against Jordan on penalties.

With Asia’s qualification spots set to increase from four to eight in the 2026 World Cup, the White Wolves have their most realistic chance to secure the elusive World Cup spot. The second round of the qualifiers is ongoing, and the team has put up a decent performance so far. Out of the two games, it beat Turkmenistan 3-1 while it drew against Iran 2-2.


Despite experience being a vital aspect in national teams around the world, taking the opposite approach could perhaps be the way for this Uzbekistan team to make it big.

While the senior team has been a certified Asian giant for some time now, the junior-level teams especially the U17 team has caught the spotlight as one of the world’s best. The team has been a part of three U17 World Cups- in 2011, 2013, and 2023, making the knockouts each time. The juniors have far outperformed the seniors even in the U16 AFC Asian Cup - the team won the tournament in 2012, finished runners-up in 2010, and finished third in 2023. The U20 team too made it to the round of 16 in the 2023 World Cup and won the latest edition of the AFC Asian Cup.

With the AFC Asian Cup 2023 squad, the management has decided to back the youth - the team’s average age is only 25, which includes seven players from the title-winning squad of the U20 AFC Asian Cup 2023 and the U23 AFC Asian Cup 2022,in the hope that the same kind of success could be replicated.


The national team was dealt a huge blow when captain and Cagliari forward Eldor Shomurodov was ruled out of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup after sustaining a leg injury.

Having been in fine goal-scoring form for both club and country, it was certain that the White Wolves’ goal-scoring would be hampered. This was evident in the team’s opening AFC Asian Cup fixture against Syria on January 18, when it failed to find the net. Despite having 14 chances, only two of them were on target.

However, while manager Katanec acknowledged that Shomurodov would be a big miss, he backed the midfield to step up in his absence. Two midfielders the Slovenian will have high expectations from will be Jaloliddin Masharipov and Faizullaev.

Katanec usually places emphasis on the midfield, as his most used formation is 3-4-3, and this is where the duo comes in. Creating goal-scoring chances has never been a problem for the Central Asian team and this is because of the consistency and quality Masharipov has shown every time he has donned the white jersey.

Jaloliddin Masharipov (R) will be key for Uzbekistan in midfield.
Jaloliddin Masharipov (R) will be key for Uzbekistan in midfield. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Jaloliddin Masharipov (R) will be key for Uzbekistan in midfield. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Having played with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr before, Masharipov is one of the more experienced players in a relatively young team with 53 caps to date, the second most ever. While the Panserraikos winger only had two goals and an assist to show for in nine games in 2023, his form can turn around in the blink of an eye and with support from his midfield compatriot Faizullaev, he can be a threat to any team.

Faizullaev who plays for CSKA Moscow and was also the MVP of the 2023 U20 AFC Asian Cup, has not had much experience with the senior side and will have the perfect chance to announce himself in the 2023 edition of the quadrennial tournament.

The Uzbeks under Katanec have been a well-oiled machine. The Slovenian has replaced the erratic, goal-scoring mindset the team once knew with a more organised and zero-risk approach, keeping things tight in defence and midfield and frustrating the opponent, which would give way to chances. The team relies on long balls and aerial duels for its goal-scoring, and also makes good use of its physical prowess to its advantage – five of its regular starting players weigh more than 80 kilos.

Uzbekistan’s 26-member squad for AFC Asian Cup
Goalkeepers: Abduvokhid Nematov, Utkir Yusupov, Botirali Ergashev
Defenders: Rustam Ashurmatov, Umarbek Eshmurodov, Khusniddin Alikulov, Muhammadkodir Khamraliev, Abdulla Abdullaev, Abdukodir Khusanov, Sherzod Nasrullaev, Farrukh Saifiev, Khodjiakbar Alijonov, Zafarmurod Abdirahmatov
Midfielders: Jaloliddin Masharipov, Oston Urunov, Aziz Turgunboev, Odiljon Khamrobekov, Diyor Kholmatov, Jamshid Boltaboev, Jamshid Iskanderov, Khodjimat Erkinov, Otabek Shukurov, Abbosbek Faizullaev
Forwards: Igor Sergeev, Bobir Abdiholikov, Azizbek Amonov
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