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Group E: Ahal defeat Dordoi to seal AFC Cup Zonal finals place

Bishkek: Turkmenistan’s FC Ahal became the first side to book a place in the 2021 AFC Cup’s Zonal finals, confirming their status as Group E winners with a 2-0 victory against Kyrgyz Premier League champions FC Dordoi at Dolen Omurzakov Stadium on Monday.

Hojaahmet Arazov’s side went ahead through an early own goal from Dordoi’s Alexander Mischenko, before the points were made safe by captain Elman Tagayev 12 minutes from time.

Ahal’s tally of six points means they now cannot be overhauled by either Dordoi or Tajikistan’s FC Ravshan, who will complete the Group E schedule with a dead rubber on Thursday.

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Dordoi kicked off in the knowledge that defeat would bring an immediate end to their hopes of a maiden knockout stage appearance, and they made the worst possible start when they fell behind in the seventh minute.

The blow was self-inflicted, with left back Aleksander Mischenko turning Meylis Diniyev’s cross into his own net while attempting to clear it, putting the hosts on the back foot from early on.

The dramatic opening to the game was the precursor to a largely even first half, but one where the better chances generally fell the visitors’ way, particularly when a botched pass from Dordoi goalkeeper Kutman Kadyrbekov created a gilt-edged opportunity for Tagayev, only for the Ahal skipper to miss the target from 15 yards.

The more positive side of Kadyrbekov’s game was on show three minutes later, when he came up with a superb reflex save to deny Tagayev, who had been put through on goal by Diniyev.

With Dordoi struggling to create opportunities of similar quality at their end, head coach Alexander Krestinn turned to Ghanaian striker Joel Kojo, who replaced Azamat Omuraliev at half-time in a show of intent from the local side.

The first quarter of an hour after the break largely belonged to Dordoi, who pinned their opponents deep inside their own half, but did so without managing to ask any serious questions of Ahal goalkeeper Rasul Charyyev.

Despite their relative lack of shots in the second half, Ahal were still giving Dordoi plenty to be nervous about, with the hosts surviving a goalmouth scramble shortly before Tagayev lashed an effort wide with 20 minutes remaining, and it proved to be a portent for what was to come.

Ahal’s killer blow arrived in the 78th minute, when the Turkmen side picked the hosts apart on the counter attack, with Tagayev evading the attention of Dordoi’’s retreating defence to poke home substitute Nuryagdy Muhammedov’s cross and send his side to the knockout stage for the first time.

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