Monday 19 February 2024, 09:45

Lofty ambitions send Tajikistan into top 100 of global ranking

  • Dastai Muntakhabi break new ground in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Men’s World Ranking

  • Strong performances at the AFC Asian Cup have propelled the country up the standings

  • Significant efforts have been made in recent years to bolster the development of Tajik football

Having reached the quarter-finals of the recently concluded AFC Asian Cup in their maiden tournament campaign, Tajikistan will have been over the moon to see their exploits on Qatari soil reflected in February’s edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Men’s World Ranking, as they catapulted into the top 100 for the first time ever – a fitting reward for the remarkable endeavours of the entire country to develop its footballing landscape. “The plaudits go to the players, coaches, medical team and administrative staff, as well as all those who’ve worked so hard to take us to where we are today,” said Furkatzhon Akhmedzhanov, Tajikistan Football Federation (TFF) General Secretary. “But progress wasn’t made overnight,” he insisted. “We gave a good account of ourselves during qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and only missed out on reaching the third round of the Asian play-offs by two goals,” he recalled. “The team has improved gradually. The results we’re now achieving are the fruit of the work carried out over several years.”

The catalyst for the side’s rise can be traced back to 2018 and the launch of the “Dream 2026” campaign. The ten-year project takes a holistic approach, from grassroots to elite football, and is underpinned by a pool of talented young players, as evidenced by the country’s participation in the 2007 and 2019 editions of the FIFA U-17 World Cup™. The goal now is for the senior team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 26™. Speaking to Inside FIFA, Akhtam Nazarov, Tajikistan’s most capped player of all time with 81 international appearances to his name, said: “The dream that I and the whole team share is to play in the next World Cup. We’re through to the second qualifying round, with four points after two games. We still have four games left to play, against Saudi Arabia [twice], Jordan and Pakistan. Making it through to the third qualifying round is more than a goal – it’s a mission!”

Now 31, Nazarov was the experienced head in a Tajikistan side with an average age of 24 at this year’s Asian Cup. The country is clearly backing its bright young talent, and it’s paying off in spades, as the team continue to make big strides forward.

“There’s no doubt that the standard of the game has improved in Tajikistan,” commented Nazarov, who made his senior debut for his country back in 2011. “This trend is clearly dovetailing with our association’s ambition to take Tajik football to the next level. The TFF is particularly focused on developing the youth game, which makes perfect sense, since it’s the young generations that’ll usher in the football of tomorrow.”

To that effect, the Tajik FA has established leagues across all age categories, for men, women, boys and girls. Significant investments have been made to develop and renovate the country’s footballing infrastructure. World football’s governing body has supported those efforts through the FIFA Forward Programme, including by allocating funds for the construction of a national training centre that should soon be ready to open its doors.

“The training centre will be a big milestone for us. It’ll be used not only by our senior national teams, but by many of our other sides across the different age groups. Our men’s and women’s squads for the Olympics and our youth teams, as well as our futsal sides, will hold their training camps there,” explained Akhmedzhanov. “The centre will be built in Varzob, in a picturesque corner of the country. In addition to training camps, we’ll also be able to host Central Asian Football Association (CAFA) tournaments, allowing us to welcome youth and women’s national teams from across the region.”

DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN - MAY 02: FIFA President Gianni Infantino meeting with Tajikistan Football Federation (TFF) President Rustam Emomali during his visit to Tajikistan on May 2, 2023 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (Photo Courtesy by FA Tajikistan Media Department)

I see a young country, but also one that boasts a rich culture and history, and a nation that is focused on the future of its youth.

Gianni Infantino
FIFA President

“The work of the TFF under Rustam Emomali’s leadership has been incredible,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino following his meeting last May with the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, as well as Rustam Emomali himself, who is mayor of Dushanbe and CAFA and TFF President. “When I see the projects we were discussing today with the head of the TFF, the association’s staff and the President of Tajikistan – projects that span youth, women’s and men’s football and men’s and women’s futsal – I see a young country, but also one that boasts a rich culture and history, and a nation that is focused on the future of its youth.”

Tajikistan are dreaming big and only moving in one direction.