World Cup fever is gripping Uzbekistan, where tempers flared this week as some 1,500 football aficionados queued for tickets for an upcoming group game match at Tashkent’s Bunyodkor Stadium. The BBC's Uzbek Service reported that police used force to disperse the disorderly crowd.
The excitement is understandable: A first for Central Asian football, Uzbekistan's national team stands on the verge of qualifying for the game’s top contest, to be held in Brazil next year.
The Uzbekistan Football Federation website reported the supporters flooded Bunyodkor's ticket offices on March 18, expecting tickets to go on sale at 2 p.m. When ticket windows failed to open, disgruntled fans started revolting. The police moved in with batons and made several arrests, according to the kun.uz website.
The 12news.uz website claimed 6,000 tickets were sold later in the day, but a fan commenting on the story claimed that only 200-500 tickets had been sold after 18.30 and that enthusiasts were unhappy with the process.
Fans will now have to wait until after the Navruz holiday to get their hands on the precious tickets, which will go on sale again March 22. The tickets, which cost between 15,000 and 30,000 sum ($7.50 to $15.00 at the official exchange rate), are limited to two per person.
Support for the national team is strong in Uzbekistan, with televised games attracting big crowds. Billboards featuring the players line the road to central Tashkent from the airport.
Uzbekistan currently leads its qualification group with eight points after five matches. Iran, Qatar and South Korea are just behind with seven points each, though the Koreans have played one less match. Lebanon is currently last in this group with just four points.
A victory over Lebanon would leave Uzbekistan in the group’s driving seat ahead of an away match in June against South Korea before playing Qatar at home. The top two teams in the group will qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil, slated for June and July 2014.