I noticed that Pakistan is playing Sri Lanka in the AFC challenge cup qualifiers today, a tournament for low-ranked, emerging countries in the Asian Federation. This sent my mind way off into random thought land and I wondered what the soccer scene is like in all of the Central Asian "______stan" countries. Here's what I found:
Uzbekistan - Rank: 66
-- Uzbekistan is likely the only "stan" with a shot at qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, they are currently undefeated at the top of their qualifying group, which includes Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Lebanon.
-- Maksim Shatskikh, with Dynamo Kiev, is a lethal goal scorer known as the Uzbek Schevchenko.
-- FC Pakhtakor Tashkent in the Oliy Uzbek League has made the AFC Champions League Semi Finals Twice.
Kazakhstan - Rank: 108
-- Check out this awesome wikipedia entry about Kazakh player Maksim Zhalmagambetov who plays with Royal Antwerp in Belgium:
"At the age of 21, Maksim earned his first cap on November 17, 2004 in WC 2006 qualifier against Greece. Maksim would have played all Euro 2008 qualifiers, unless being sent off in a match against Azerbaijan for punching a defender in face, and therefore getting 3 games ban." - Couldn't have put it better myself
-- Kazakhstan is the only "stan" in UEFA
-- FC Tobol, from the Kazakh Premier League, won the Intertoto cup in 2007 and advanced to the 2nd qualifying round of the UEFA cup this season.
-- Andrei Karpovich, at FC Dinamo Moskva in Russia, is a key player for the Kazakhstan national team.
Turkmenistan - Rank: 128
-- Turkmenistan is the only other "stan" left in Asian 2010 world cup qualifying, but they currently sit last in their group that includes North and South Korea and Jordan.
-- FC Ashgabat in the Turkmenistan League, was formed in 2006 and won the title in 2007.
-- Key Player: Vladimir Bairamov plays in Russian Premier League at FC Khimki
Kyrgyzstan - Rank: 138
-- Most of the players on the Kyrgyzstan national team play on a club called Dordoi-Dynamo Naryn.
-- The Kyrgyz League, pronounced Kyrgyz, starts on April 12, exciting times in the land that forgot about vowels.
Tajikistan - Rank: 141
-- Tajikistan won the AFC Challenge cup that Pakistan is playing in today, back in 2006.
-- Regar-TadAZ Tursunzoda is the top club in the Tajik League, they've won the club version of the AFC Challenge cup, called the AFC Presidents Cup.
-- Farkhod Vasiev plays in the Premier League in Russia with FC Saturn Moscow.
Pakistan - Rank: 163
-- Zesh Rehman is a British-Pakistani player who was the first Pakistani to play in the English Premier League, with Fulham. He's now at QPR, with former Chicago Fire goal keeper, Matt Pickens.
-- The Pakistan Premier League was only founded in 2004 in Cricket-mad Pakistan.
The top three clubs in the league this season have interesting names:
Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA)
Khan Research Laboratories (KRL)
-- Since the league is semi-pro and the players don't make very much, many of the players work for the company that represents their team. Kind of like Troy Perkins being a mortgage loan specialist while playing in goal at DC United, or not. I'm expecting Punjab Medical College to move away from the relegation zone next season. (Like I know)
Afghanistan - Rank: 190
-- Even though the country is in obvious turmoil in recent years, the Afghan national team has still managed to win games against Sri Lanka and fellow "stan" Kyrgyzstan in the past 5 years.
-- Four Afghan players play in low-level leagues in Germany.
-- The nation did manage an olympic appearance in 1948, but they were knocked out quickly with a 6-0 loss to Luxembourg.
So there it is, Soccer in the Stans, something I never imagined I'd write about in my lifetime.