Turkmenistan target double over Singapore
Team manager says qualification for the Asian Cup will boost football in their country
They had just endured a 16-hour journey from Sofia to Singapore that included two flights and a four-hour stopover at Istanbul.
Understandably, the Turkmenistan national football team were edgy when they were then told they had to wait on their bus for assistant coach Baylyyev Rahmanguly, who was held up by airport immigration upon arrival yesterday due to a spelling error on his visa.
They also turned down the opportunity to train while head coach Yazguly Hojagaldiyev declined to be interviewed, citing fatigue.
The delay, though, gave team manager Resul Mammedow time to speak briefly with The New Paper ahead of Turkmenistan's Asian Cup Group E qualifier against Singapore tomorrow.
His look of frustration, brought about by the two-hour wait for Rahmanguly, instantly turned into one of hope when asked about his national team's aim of qualifying for the Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates in 2019, as one of Group E's top two teams.
"We are ready," the 25-year-old Mammedow said.
"We had a good one-week training camp in Bulgaria, where we played two games against top-tier clubs.
"We won the first 1-0, and drew the second 0-0.
"Yes, Europe is a long way from here. But we chose Bulgaria because they have very good facilities and hospitality.
"The field, meals and weather were great for us.
"We want to win both games against Singapore (at Jalan Besar tomorrow and in Ashgabat on Oct 10) because they are important for our Asian Cup hopes and qualification would be a big boost for Turkmenistan football."
While rich in history, Turkmenistan gained independence from the Soviet Union only in 1991.
For the central Asia country whose major sports are horse riding and falconry, Turkmenistan football has come a long way since their first Fifa international match - a 1-0 loss to Kazakhstan in 1992.
Ranked No. 141st in the Fifa rankings, 30 rungs above the Lions, they have qualified for just one major tournament before.
Grouped with Uzbekistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia at the 2004 Asian Cup, the team returned home with one point from three games.
Their only previous encounter with Singapore was when they lost 4-2 in a friendly match in Vietnam in 2009.
While they have improved since then, inconsistency remains a major bugbear.
For example, in 2015, they lost 1-0 at Guam before holding Asian powerhouses Iran to a 1-1 home draw in another World Cup qualifier just six days later.
Their current qualifying campaign began with a 3-1 win at Taiwan in March, before they lost 2-1 to group favourites Bahrain in June.
Slavia Prague playmaker Ruslan Mingazow was impressive against Taiwan, chipping in with two assists and one goal, while right back Serdar Annaorazow and left winger Arslanmyrat Amanow also caught the eye in that game.
Captain Ahmet Atayew will also be feeding his teammates information on Asean football, as the midfielder plies his trade with Indonesian club Arema.
Mammedow smiled when complimented on his team's style of play - a potent mix of strong, physical play and incisive wing manoeuvres.
"We have many young and energetic players and we try to play good football against every team we face," he said.
"We knew that we are going to play at Jalan Besar and it is an artificial pitch, but that will not be a problem for us because there are many such fields in our country.
"We are tired now but, on Tuesday, we will be ready."