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Istiklol’s Levchenko has eye towards AFC Cup

Dushanbe: Reigning Tajikistan Football League champions FC Istiklol may have made a dream start to their domestic title defence, but a large part of their focus remains on their suspended AFC Cup campaign, according to head coach Vitaliy Levchenko.

An opening-day 7-0 win over Dushanbe-83 was duly followed by a 2-0 win over CSKA Dushanbe on Sunday, as Tajikistan’s most successful side – and one packed with national team stars - took their first steps towards a potential seventh successive league title.

But while the league is the only game in town at the moment – and one of only a handful of active leagues anywhere in the world – the prospect of success at the continental level hasn’t left the mind of Istiklol’s chief tactician.

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COVID-19 put an abrupt halt to AFC Cup action shortly after Istiklol’s Matchday One win over Khujand in March, but Levchenko said he will continue to build on his tactical approach with an eye towards the competition.

“We plan on playing in Asia, and playing with worthy rivals in the AFC Cup, then we can go from there,” said the nine-time Tajikistan international.

“I say again, this is not the main (tactical) scheme, we will focus on each opponent and play with another scheme. Based on the AFC Cup matches, we chose this tactic for the match.”

Levchenko’s side have earned a maximum six points and are yet to concede in their opening two league matches, taking their competitive record in 2020 to four wins from four, but they were given a sterner test than many had anticipated in Sunday’s clash against CSKA.

An early strike from Alisher Dzhalilov put Istiklol on the path to victory but it took an 86th-minute goal from substitute Sheriddin Boboev to make the points safe, and Levchenko was full of praise for last season’s top scorer.

“The opponent was well focused, they were dedicated, and therefore a good, fighting game developed,” reflected Levchenko.

“To play freely you need to take your opportunities. In the first half we are able to do so, in the second half there were no problems with the implementation, but the player who came on and strengthened the game was Sheriddin (Boboev). He did his job.

“As a result, I think we brought to the game to its logical conclusion and won.”

Boboev was one of three Istiklol players to be named in the league’s Team of the Week, alongside Alisher Dzhalilov and Marko Milic, while Khatlon’s Tajikistan U-23 international Sorbon Avgonov was named Player of the Week.

Photos: FC Istiklol

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