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Matchday One: Central & South Preview

Kuala Lumpur: The first round of 2020 AFC Cup fixtures will take place in the Central and South Zones on Wednesday, as six sides get set to begin their Continental campaigns.

Among the teams in action are two-time runners-up FC Istiklol of Tajkistan, compatriots FC Khujand and Maldivian champions Maziya Sports & Recreation, who stunned former runners-up Bengaluru FC of India in the play-offs.

There are plenty of debuts, too, with Indian side Chennai City, Bashundhara Kings of Bangladesh and the Maldives' TC Sports Club all set to make their maiden AFC Cup appearances.

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Group D

A Tajikistan derby kicks off the AFC Cup in the Central Zone on Wednesday as former finalists FC Istiklol welcome FC Khujand to Dushanbe in a match that sees several of the visiting team's players return to their former home.

Dilshod Vasiev captained Istiklol in the 2015 final while Fatkhullo Fatkhulloev did likewise in the 2017 showpiece event, and both should expect warm welcomes when they return to the Tajik capital.

Group D: FC Khujand v FC Istiklol

Istiklol are taking part in their sixth successive AFC Cup, while Khujand secured a place in the group stage for the second consecutive season after reversing a first-leg deficit against Kyrgyz Republic's FC Neftchi in the play-offs to advance 3-1 on aggregate.

The game marks a repeat of the sides' opening fixture of last season's tournament which Istiklol won 3-0. It was, however, Khujand who came out on top of in the most recent AFC Cup meeting between the pair, when they won the reverse fixture 3-2 following a Vasiev winner.

FC Istiklol (TJK) vs FC Khujand (TJK)
Venue: Republican Central Stadium, Dushanbe
Kick-off: March 11, 18:00 UTC +5

Group E

Bangladesh champions Bashundhara Kings will make their Continental bow on Wednesday when they face fellow debutants TC Sports Club of the Maldives at Dhaka's Bangabandhu National Stadium.

The hosts won the Bangladesh Premier League title for the first time in 2018-19, while the visitors are making their first appearance in the group stage having previously exited in the qualifying rounds.

Bashundhara pulled off a major coup in acquiring former Argentina international Hernan Barcos in February and all eyes will be on the 35-year-old as he gets set to embark on a new journey in South Asia.

Also on Wednesday, India's Chennai City will play their first-ever AFC Cup game when they host recently crowned Dhivehi Premier League champions Maziya Sports & Recreation of the Maldives in a fixture that sees the visitors return to the competition for the first time since 2017.

The 2018-19 I-League champions Chennai City are following in the footsteps of Chennaiyin FC, who competed in the 2019 AFC Cup, as the Tamil Nadu city is represented in the tournament for the second successive season.

Maziya, meanwhile, produced a stunning result to defeat another Indian side, Bengaluru FC, on penalties in the play-offs to progress to the group stage. As the only non-debutant, the Male club will hope their experience proves beneficial in a new-look South Zone group.

Bashundhara Kings (BAN) vs TC Sports Club (MDV)
Venue: Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka
Kick-off: March 11, 15:30 UTC +6

Chennai City (IND) vs Maziya Sports & Recreation (MDV)
Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai
Kick-off: March 11, 19:30 UTC +5:30

Photo: Chennai City

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