Uzbek football on the rise - Kabaev

Tashkent, Uzbekistan ( -- Marat Kabaev has guided Uzbekistan to the quarter-finals of the AFC U-19 Championship and is confident of a good showing on Monday against Saudi Arabia.

For the former Uzbek forward, the team’s recent successes are to be expected as the country has put in place a professional system of football development. Uzbekistan were runners-up in the previous edition held in 2008.

“Football in Uzbekistan is on the rise, especially in the last two years,” said the 49-year-old Kabaev. “Sports schools are being built not only in Tashkent but also its periphery.

“Professionalism is being taught at a very young age. The results are sure to come,” said Kabaev, one of the best known strikers of his generation in the old Soviet Union.

“It is a great honour to coach the Uzbek youth. I have to do everything I can for this generation.”

Kabaev was sought after when he was a player and played for several top clubs, including Pakhtakor, Dnipro, SKA Rostov and Traktor Pavlodar. His moment of glory came in 1982 when Pakhtakor finished sixth in the ultra-tough Soviet league.

Turning out for Pakhtakor, Kabaev scored 48 goals and hung up his boots in 1997 as part of a modest Dynamo Samarqand squad.

“I had no job when I stopped my football career and it was a very difficult time for me,” said Kabaev. “I believe this is common when players are faced with retirement issues.

“I think even professional players need outside support in a difficult situation like this, any professional advice, psychology consultations will be very helpful.”

When asked if football had undergone a sea-change from the way he knew it, Kabaev whole-heartedly agreed.

“There are no standards for comparing players from the old Soviet Union and the present. The beautiful game has changed a lot,” said Kabaev, who is also the father of famous former Russian gymnast Alina, who is now pursuing a career in politics.

\"It\'s great to be the father of Alina,” said the doting Kabaev “However, she lives in Moscow, and I train in Tashkent. We meet when she comes to Uzbekistan on short trips and I often go to Moscow in my spare time. Alina’s schedule is very busy and we have settled for communicating over the phone. But it does not harm our beautiful relationship.