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Group A: Istiklol seal AFC Champions League last 16 ticket despite defeat to AGMK

Riyadh: FC Istiklol advanced to the 2021 AFC Champions League Round of 16 despite losing 2-1 to AGMK FC after closest rivals Al Hilal SFC were defeated by UAE's Shabab Al Ahli Dubai on Friday.

The defeats left both teams on 10 points with debutants Istiklol of Tajikistan finishing as group winners thanks to a better head to head record against Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal, the 2019 AFC Champions League winners.

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AGMK, having already been eliminated, started with several of their fringe players but there was no change to their attacking style of play.

Istiklol, whose defensive resilience had stood them in great stead throughout the tournament, opted for a more aggressive approach in a bid to secure the points, with Shakhrom Suleymanov making their intent known with his 13th minute attempt from outside the box.

Istiklol goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov, however, was the busier custodian as he was forced to thwart AGMK’s constant crosses into the box but the Tajik champions held their ground to keep the game at a goalless heading into the half-time break.

The goalless affair at the King Fahd International Stadium continued well into the second half with AGMK still holding the lion’s share of possession and coming close in the 53rd minute.

Substitute Husniddin Gafurov linked up with Aleksandr Kasyan in the area, but Istiklol defender Oleksii Larin was able to cut out the pass before the Ukranian striker could lay the finishing touch.

Istiklol’s Rustam Soirov and Manuchker Dzhalilov combined for a dangerous move three minutes later, as a series of passes between the two saw Soirov unmarked in the box but his strike lacked the necessary firepower.

AGMK’s persistence was rewarded in the 67th minute when substitute Zafar Polvonov headed in from an acute angle to break the deadlock, with Akramjon Komilov picking up the assist. 

Despite having the lead, AGMK kept pressing for another as Istiklol’s defence began to crack and in the 79th minute, Jovan Djokic finished substitute Murodjon Toshmatov’s through pass into the area with a cracking strike. 

Istiklol pulled one back seven minutes later when Soirov was brought down in the box by AGMK defender Komilov pulled, and he duly converted from the spot to reduce the deficit.

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