Uzbekistan may apply to join UEFA after what their contoversial failure to reach next year’s World Cup finals.

“We, in Uzbekistan, always wanted to be a part of UEFA and after the latest events this process will certainly gain a new momentum,” Alisher Nikimbayev, a senior official in the Uzbekistan Football Federation, told Reuters.

“What FIFA had done to us in regards of replaying our qualifier with Bahrain was very unjust. We feel very strongly about that.”

Uzbekistan beat Bahrain 1-0 in the first leg of their Asian Zone World Cup qualifier play-off in Tashkent on Sept. 3 but FIFA invalidated the result and ordered teh game to be replayed following a mistake by Japanese referee Toshimitsu Yoshida.

Yoshida was deemed to have made a technical error in disallowing a Uzbekistan penalty and awarding Bahrain a free kick.

The two sides drew 1-1 in a rescheduled match on October 8 before Bahrain held the Uzbeks 0-0 in the second leg progress on the away goal rule.

“We have been robbed,” Nikimbayev said. “First, we were robbed of a penalty, then they wiped away our 1-0 win which would have been enough for us to reach the play-off.

“Not a single person in the whole stadium understood what happened after the ref disallowed the penalty.”

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) suspended Yoshida indefinitely for his mistake.

“We feel sorry for Uzbekistan because they have been doubly punished, once for the penalty incident and then for having to replay the match they won,” said AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Nikimbayev has blamed FIFA for ordering the game to be replayed.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough proof to say that FIFA would rather see a rich Arab state like Bahrain play in the World Cup than having us there,” he said.

“For us it was the biggest chance to play in the World Cup finals and probably the last one in many years to come.

“I don’t think we would get another chance like that for many years because most of our top senior players, back from the Soviet days, will now retire and it would take years before we could produce a new crop of good young players.”

Nikimbayev said Uzbek foootball would benefit from joining UEFA.

“It would be a tremendous opportunity. We could raise our game to a new level,” he said.

“Playing in the (European) Champions League would be a great boost for our game and would benefit us financially.

“All our fans would love it. Just imagine having Real Madrid, Chelsea or Man United come here.

“If Australians can join the Asian confederation and Kazakhstan become a UEFA member why not us?

“I remember (UEFA president Lennart) Johansson invited all 15 former Soviet republics to join UEFA way back in 1992.

“Uzbek soccer officials wanted it, our fans wanted it but we just couldn’t convince our politicians back then,” he added.

“Well, maybe now is a good time to have this issue settled.”

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