How they qualified:
This campaign feature 14 matches for Kyrgyzstan and in the second round of AFC qualifying they played home and away against Australia and Jordan among others. They finished in third place behind the heavyweights and qualified for the finals in the third round by jointly topping group A alongside India on 13 points.
This will be Kyrgyzstan’s maiden appearance. They will be debutants at the finals alongside the Philippines and Yemen.
Bakhtiyar Duyshobekov is the lynchpin of Kyrgyzstan’s team. The defensive midfielder signed for Bashundhara Kings in the Bangladesh Football Premier League. He played in Malaysia as well and that experience will be key as he shores up Kyrgyzstan 5-men backline, but also tries to give attacking impulses. His versatility allows coach Aleksandr Krestinin to deploy him in different roles.
Aleksandr Krestinin is the mastermind behind Kyrgyzstan’s rise. The Russian took over in 2014 and guided Kyrgyzstan to their first-ever finals. Since 2017 he also coached domestic club Dordoi Bishkek where he won a double. At 40, he is still a relatively inexperienced coach, but he has grown into his role in Kyrgyzstan. During his playing days, he played for 14 different Russian clubs. He took his first steps in coaching at Kyrgyz club FC Neftchi Kochkor-Ata, where he hung up his boots as a player.
What we can expect:
Kyrgyzstan has been one of the benefactors of the AFC’s qualification structure, which may seem drawn out but offers smaller and middle-tiered nations a chance at plenty of competitive football. They developed and improved as they faced opposition of different pedigree during the qualifiers. Kyrgyzstan is ranked 12th in Asia, but may find Group C very tough. They face tournament favourites South Korea and China as well. Fellow debutants the Philippines will provide Kyrgyzstan with more benign opposition in their final group game.
Schedule (Group C)
Jan 7 vs China PR, Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium, Al Ain
Jan 11 vs South Korea, Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Jan 16 vs Philippines, Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, Dubai
Goalkeepers: Pavel Matyash (NA), Kutman Kadyrbekov (Dordoi Bishkek), Valery Kashuba (Dordoi Bishkek)
Defenders: Valery Kichin (Yenisey Krasnoyarsk), Tamirlan Kozubaev (Dordoi Bishkek), Mustafa Iusupov (Dordoi Bishkek), Aizar Akmatov (Alga Bishkek), Viktor Maier (SC Wiedenbrück), Daniel Tagoe (Chittagong Abahani)
Midfielders: Tursunali Rustamov (Alga Bishkek), Aziz Sydykov (Dordoi Bishkek), Edgar Bernhardt (GKS Tychy), Bekzhan Sagynbaev (Dordoi Bishkek), Odiljon Abdurakhmanov (FC Alay), Murolimzhon Akhmedov (Dordoi Bishkek), Kairat Zhyrgalbek Uulu (Dordoi Bishkek), Bakhtiyar Duyshobekov (Bashundhara Kings), Farhat Musabekov (Dordoi Bishkek), Anton Zemlianukhin (Ilbirs Bishkek), Akhlidin Israilov (NA)
Forwards: Mirlan Murzaev (Somaspor Kulübü), Ernist Batyrkanov (Dordoi Bishkek), Vitalij Lux (SSV Ulm)