Geldiyev aiming to make up for final heartbreak
Hanoi: Altyn Asyr captain Serdar Geldiyev has set his sights on lifting the 2019 AFC Cup after the Turkmen side made it all the way to the final last year only to suffer defeat at the hands of Iraq’s Air Force Club.
For the second successive campaign, Altyn Asyr were crowned Central Asian Zonal Champions after again pipping Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol in their final Group D game.
The Ashgabat team are next tasked with Hanoi FC in the Inter-Zone Semi-finals with the first leg against the ASEAN Zonal Champions taking place in the Vietnamese capital on Tuesday.
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“This tournament is very special for us and we aim to become the AFC Cup champions,” admitted Geldiyev.
“Of course, every team wants to win the competition, but we have experienced losing in the final against Air Force Club in Basra last year.
“We were so disappointed but we have another chance now. Our target last year was to win the title and it’s the same this time. Step by step we’ll do what we can to make the final.”
Altyn Asyr have enjoyed an impressive rise to prominence in the Continental tournament since exiting bottom of their group on their debut in 2016.
The following year they returned and only narrowly missed out on advancing to the Inter-Zone semi-finals, before a dramatic 98th-minute goal in Dushanbe secured a 3-2 win against Istiklol and a place in the knockout rounds last year.
India’s JSW Bengaluru and DPR Korea’s 4.25 SC were seen off en route to the final and, after losing out to three-time champions Air Force Club, they returned this year with the motivation to lift the trophy.
Four draws and two wins in the group stage show the Turkmen champions have yet to find their best form, although they remain unbeaten ahead of the first leg against Hanoi.
“The group stage was very difficult and very interesting as it was decided on the last match against FC Istiklol,” said the midfielder.
“This year it was tougher although we were a little bit unlucky. We actually played very well but found it hard to score, but also because we were runners-up last year, everyone wanted to beat us.”
Another player who was key in helping Altyn Asyr reach the knockout rounds for the first time last year was Myrat Yakshiyev.
The attacking midfielder scored five times in the group stage before breaking his leg in the first leg of the Inter-Zone semi-final against Bengaluru and missing the rest of the campaign.
Although this stage of the competition may have bad memories for the 27-year-old, he remains determined to make up for the disappointment.
“It was very difficult when I was injured and I had to watch my teammates training outside,” revealed Yakshiyev (above, left), who netted twice in the group stage.
“When I began training back with the team it was a very happy moment for me and I hope this year I can help the side become the AFC Cup champions. We don’t want to come runners-up again.
“After the injury, I'm very happy with my form; I feel good. We’ve got two really difficult games against Hanoi but we’ve come here to win.”
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