Bishkek: Turkmenistan’s FC Ahal took an important step towards the 2021 AFC Cup knockout stage, registering a 3-1 win over FC Ravshan of Tajikistan in their tournament opener at Dolen Omurzakov Staidum on Friday.
Ahal captain Elman Tagayev was the star of the night, scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes, with Gurban Annayev making the points safe for Hojaahmet Arazov’s side after Ravshan's Daler Shomurodov had pulled a goal back from the penalty spot early in the second half.
The Turkmen can seal their place in the knockout stage with a win over Kyrgyz Premier League champions FC Dordoi on Monday, while Ravshan’s defeat means their chances of advancing are no longer totally in their hands.
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Ahal hadn’t kicked a ball competitively since last November but they showed no signs of rust in a commanding opening period, which included a major chance for Abdy Bashimov, who headed Tagayev’s cross wide in the seventh minute.
Tagayev – a hard-running winger who scored 16 goals in Turkmenistan last season – quickly emerged as the game’s dominant player, and it came as little surprise when he curled home the opening goal in the 14th minute, scoring from 15 yards after being supplied by Resul Hojayev.
The Hojayev-Tagayev partnership then produced the second goal just four minutes later, with Hojayev this time picking out his unmarked captain with a long pass and Tagayev easing the ball past Rustam Rizoev with the aid of the left-hand upright.
Appearing in the tournament for the first time since 2014, Ravshan survived an onslaught to reach the interval without further damage, but the half-time count of nine shots to one was a realistic guide to the run of play in the opening 45 minutes.
Eager to turn the tide, Ravshan coach Gayratali Mirahmadov made two substitutions at the break, and his side found a way back into the game when Shomurdov eased home a 52nd-minute penally, comfortably beating Rasul Charyev from the spot after the Ahal goalkeeper had clumsily brought down a goal-bound Karomatullo Saidov.
The dangerous Tagayev was given an early mark when substituted in the 62nd-minute, and the man who replaced him - Shanazar Tirkishov – proved his worth by helping to create Ahal’s third goal just a minute later, with Annayev finishing unerringly on his right foot to restore the two-goal buffer.
That goal took much of the sting out of the contest and while Ravshan were much improved in the second half, it was Ahal who emerged from Group E’s opening night in full control of their destiny.
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