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Happy days for Arazov as Ahal break through to AFC Cup knockout stage

Bishkek: A delighted Hojaahmet Arazov praised his victorious Ahal FC players after they sealed the club’s first ever AFC Cup group stage appearance with a 2-0 win over FC Dordoi on Monday.

Needing a win to seal qualification on the night, the Turkmen side went ahead inside seven minutes thanks to Aleksander Mischenko’s unfortunate own goal, before captain Elman Tagayev swept home the sealer 12 minutes from time to make it two wins from two for Arazov’s men.

Runners-up for the last four seasons in Turkmenistan’s Yokary Liga, Ahal knew only winning the three-team Group E would be good enough to reach August’s Zonal finals, and they completed the task with back-to-back wins.

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“It was a very difficult game,” said Arazov, who suffered AFC Cup group stage eliminations as a player with Balkan FC, Merw and MTTU in the mid-2000s.

“We set some targets for these matches. We aimed to take first place in the group and qualify for the next round and we have achieved it. In the near future, we’ll play in the next round and when we do, we will set a new target.

“I’d like to thank all of our players and staff. We are very happy.”

For the second match in a row, the experience of Tagayev and former Altyn Asyr star Resul Hojayev proved invaluable, with the former making it three goals in two matches in Bishkek, and the latter voted Player of the Match for his performance in midfield.

But Ahal’s success has also been about new faces.

2021 AFC Cup: FC Dordoi 0-2 Ahal FC

Arazov used no less than seven debutants in Friday’s group opener against FC Ravshan – although some had played for the club in earlier stints – while 20-year-old winger Meylis Diniyev has emerged as the find of the group across his two matches.

It was Diniyev’s run and cross which led to Mischenko’s own goal on Monday, and Arazov was only too pleased to praise the talented youngster.

“Diniyev is a good player,” he said. “He is very young, and this is his first tournament in terms of a senior international tournament like the AFC Cup.

“We hope he’ll continue to play well and improve in the future.”

While there was a buoyant mood among the Ahal camp, Dordoi boss Alexander Krestinin was left disappointed by his side’s exit, praising the visiting side’s desire to win on the night.

“I can say that we didn’t play well,” said Krestinin, who will guide Kyrgyz Republic when the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 resume in a matter of weeks.

“We didn’t have the ball in Ahal’s area, we didn’t have a lot of shots on goal, we made a lot of defensive mistakes, and the main thing; we didn’t want to win the match more than Ahal did.

“We failed defensively. We conceded the first goal. Of course, we were ready for their fast counter attacks. One of the key reasons (for our defeat) is that we were not ready psychologically.”

Now out of knockout stage contention, Dordoi will be playing for pride when they face Tajikistan’s FC Ravshan on Thursday, while Ahal can look ahead to August’s Zonal final.

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