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ACL Legends: Uzbekistan

Kuala Lumpur: Clubs from Uzbekistan have featured in each AFC Champions League since the tournament launched in 2002-03, with a number of the Central Asian country's finest players having left their mark on the Continental competition. 

An Uzbek side may have yet to win the AFC Champions League but the likes of Pakhtakor, Bunyodkor and Lokomotiv have impressed over the years, having all gone deep into the tournament while featuring a host of standout performers – many of whom have also starred for clubs outside their homeland.

This week we highlight five players from Uzbekistan who have shone on the Continental stage and ask you, the fans, to vote for your favourite at the bottom of the article.

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Server Djeparov
AFC Champions League Editions: 11

Server Djeparov has been turning out in the AFC Champions League since reaching the semi-finals with Pakhtakor in the inaugural edition in 2002-03. Indeed, having fallen just short in 2003 – a campaign that saw the midfielder score in the semi-finals – he again exited at the last four stage a year later as the Tashkent side went so close but so far once more.

Arguably, however, Djeparov made his biggest impact as captain of Tashkent rivals Bunyodkor when the midfielder inspired them to the 2008 semi-finals in a team that featured Brazilian superstar Rivaldo. So impressive were his performances, he won the first of two AFC Player of the Year awards at the end of the year before again reaching the knockout rounds in 2009 and 2010.

The Chirchiq native spent the ensuing five seasons in Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia but only had a 2011 group stage exit with FC Seoul to show for his time in East and West Asia. A return to Tashkent with Lokomotiv followed, as did more success in the AFC Champions League, with the midfielder starring in the side's run to the 2016 quarter-finals.

Another foray abroad, this time with Esteghlal in the Islamic Republic of Iran, came next and Djeparov was impressive as they progressed to the 2018 quarter-finals. However, unable to agree terms on a new contract, he departed Tehran following their Round of 16 victory over Zobahan in what remains his last game in the competition.

Ignatiy Nesterov
AFC Champions League Editions: 15

Another member of the Pakhtakor side that reached back-to-back semi-finals, Ignatiy Nesterov has appeared in an incredible 15 AFC Champions League editions and, like Djeparov, he has been an integral part of the success of the Tashkent trio of Pakhtakor, Bunyodkor and Lokomotiv.

An ever-dependable last line of defence who has been considered the number one goalkeeper in Uzbekistan for the best part of two decades, Nesterov has three times come within a game of the final only to fall just short, with Bunyodkor's defeat to Ulsan Hyundai in 2012 again denying him a place in the showpiece event.

After moving to Lokomotiv in 2014, Nesterov went on to appear for a third side in the AFC Champions League and, while he played just once as they exited at the 2015 group stage, there remains a strong argument that the 2016 edition was the custodian's most impressive in the competition.

The Uzbeks advanced on top of their group before sending Al Hilal packing in the Round of 16 with one of the shocks of the campaign. A narrow defeat to eventual runners-up Al Ain followed but Nesterov and his side exited having conceded just five goals in 10 matches – the best goals-per-game ratio of the 2016 edition.

Odil Akhmedov
AFC Champions League Editions: 8

A classy midfielder who's currently part of a star-studded Shanghai SIPG team, Odil Akhmedov made his AFC Champions League debut as a 19-year-old for Pakhtakor in 2007, scored his first goal in the competition in 2008 and was captaining the Tashkent side by 2009 – a tournament in which his team advanced to the quarter-finals.

The following year, the Namangan native netted a hat-trick in a 3-0 group stage win over Al Ain as Pakhtakor again reached the knockout rounds but this time they fell in the last 16 to Al Gharafa. The defeat would prove his last appearance for the Tashkent team on the Continent, with a six-year spell in Russia meaning it was some time before he was back on the AFC Champions League stage.

In late 2016, Akhmedov swapped the Russian Premier League for the Chinese Super League, where he joined an exciting Shanghai SIPG team that included the likes of Wu Lei, Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson. A calm presence in the centre of the park, the Uzbek midfielder impressed as Shanghai outscored most but ultimately exited at the semi-finals.

Shanghai reached the knockout rounds in the ensuing two years but have yet to return to the last four; however, they and Akhmedov are back for another tilt at the title in 2020. No Uzbek player has won the AFC Champions League crown to date, but the midfielder could well be considered the most likely contender to be first to do so.

Timur Kapadze
AFC Champions League Editions: 10

Like so many of Uzbekistan's top players of the past 15 years, Timur Kapadze has turned out for Tashkent's big three. The reliable midfielder was also part of the Pakhtakor side that reached the semi-finals of the first two editions of the competition, only to miss out on a place in the final.

As was the case with Djeparov and Nesterov, Kapadze was lured by Bunyodkor. He went on to net in three successive group stage games in 2008 to help his new side advance to the knockout rounds as an Uzbek team sprinkled with South American flair impressed on a maiden campaign which saw Kapadze reach the semi-finals for the third time.

Two more knockout round appearances with Bunyodkor followed before Kapadze went without AFC Champions League action for several years during spells in Korea Republic, the United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan. He then returned as captain of Lokomotiv in 2015.

An ever-present as his side reached the 2016 quarter-finals, Kapadze was part of a team that upset the odds by becoming the third side from Uzbekistan to reach the knockout rounds before being eliminated by Al Ain. At 37, he made his last appearance in the competition in 2017.

Marat Bikmaev
AFC Champions League Editions: 5

While Marat Bikmaev began his career at Pakhtakor, he played no part in their early AFC Champions League adventures before departing for Russia in 2004. Indeed, it wasn't until 2014 that he returned to his homeland to join Lokomotiv and then finally make his debut in the competition a year later.

The forward netted his first AFC Champions League goals in a 5-0 group stage win over Al Sadd in April of that year and then returned in 2016 to help Lokomotiv into the quarter-finals for the first and, to date, only time.

Five goals in 2017, including a hat-trick against Al Taawoun, proved Bikmaev's best return to date but his goals were not enough to fire the Tashkent side into the knockout rounds for a second successive year. He added another to his tally in 2018 but Lokomotiv fell just short once more.

Bikmaev moved to Pakhtakor ahead of the 2019 edition and netted in an away draw with Persepolis and a home win against Al Ahli having earlier scored the decisive goal in the play-off round against Al Nasr to confirm the Uzbek giants' return to the competition after a two-year hiatus.

Now you've read up on our five Uzbek legends in the AFC Champions League, tell us who is your favourite by voting below (Poll ends at 1600 (UTC 8) on August 8).

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