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Central Asian In Charge!

Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov
Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov
A Central Asian is in charge of the opening game of the 2010 World Cup!

At least that's how the region's football fans felt when Ravshan Irmatov, a 32-year-old football referee from Uzbekistan, ran on the pitch to call the game when South Africa and Mexico kicked things off today.

And Irmatov is not the only Central Asian making an official appearance -- Bakhadyr Kochkarov and Rafael Ilyasov, from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, were also chosen as assistant referees.

Football is a favorite pastime in Central Asia, and the three men's role in the world's greatest football tournament is certainly a point of pride. But it won't fulfill the dreams of the region. That will come only when one of their beloved squads qualifies -- and once that happens, why not go ahead and win it?

-- Farangis Najibullah