Inter-Zone Semi-Final 1st Leg - Preview: Hanoi FC vs Altyn Asyr FC
Hanoi: Hanoi FC aim to become the first Vietnamese side to reach the AFC Cup Inter-Zone Final when they host last year's runners-up Altyn Asyr of Turkmenistan in the first leg of the 2019 AFC Cup Inter-Zone semi-final on Tuesday.
A first time meeting for these champions of the ASEAN and Central Zones, with Hanoi FC last in the knockout stages of the tournament in 2014 while Altyn Asyr lost out to Air Force Club of Iraq in the 2018 final.
The last time the sides from Southeast Asia and Central Asia met in the Inter-Zone semi-finals was the 2017 edition, when FC Istiklol of Tajikistan comprehensively defeated Filipino club Ceres Negros 5-1 on aggregate.
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Hanoi FC fired their way to the top of Group F, scoring more goals than any other side in the group stage, and losing just once to qualify for the ASEAN Zonal semi-finals.
Once in the knockout stage, the Vietnamese side were matched up against two-time ASEAN Zonal finalists Ceres, whom they narrowly defeated 3-2 on aggregate.
The reward for defeating Ceres was a meeting with countrymen Becamex Binh Duong and once again Hanoi proved to be the superior side over two legs.
A 1-0 win in a wet and windy Binh Duong Stadium proved enough of a foundation for a second victory by the same scoreline in the return clash in Hanoi, giving coach Chu Dinh Nghiem's men a 2-0 aggregate triumph and a place in the Inter-Zone Semi-finals.
Hanoi FC are boosted by a wealth of talent from the national team's golden generation, but Sengalese forward Pape Omar Faye continues to be the main source of goals for the side.
With eight in his tally so far, the 32-year-old is just two off the 2019 AFC Cup leading scorer Bienvenido Marañón and has a good chance of overtaking him.
Last year's finalists Altyn Asyr pipped two-time runners-up Istiklol to the qualification spot from Group D, which also featured Kyrgyz Republic's Dordoi and Tajikistan's FC Khujand.
As in last year's edition of the tournament, Altyn Asyr secured the points required for a place in the knockout stage on the very last Matchday, getting the needed draw against Istiklol in front of 14,000 in Dushanbe.
Murat Yakshiyev was the standout for Altyn Asyr in the 2018 Group Stage campaign, but he has struggled to impose himself on matches in this year's tournament so far.
Teammate Altymyrat Annadurdyyev has proved his importance to the side once more - including netting the vital goal against Istiklol on Matchday Six - but a side that has only scored seven times in six matches will need to improve on their attacking game should they wish to return to the AFC Cup final.
Ones To Watch:
Hanoi FC vs Altyn Asyr
Venue: Hang Day Stadium, Hanoi
Kick-off: August 20, 19:00 UTC+7
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