Zakirov hails PFC Neftchi’s determined performance
Jalal-Abad: PFC Neftchi Kochkor-Ata head coach Nematjan Zakirov praised his side’s commitment to the cause, after they overcame trying conditions to claim a 1-0 first leg lead in their 2020 AFC Cup Play-off against Tajikistan’s FC Khujand on Wednesday.
In the club’s first continental appearance since the 2011 AFC President’s Cup, Neftchi secured victory on the day thanks to Oleksandr Ihnatenko’s goal just after half time, putting the 2019 Kyrgyzstan Cup winners within 90 minutes of the group stage.
Both sides had to battle the elements at Jalal-Abad’s Kurmanbek Stadium, where the pitch had been buried under snow on the eve of the match, but Zakirov was delighted that his charges had been able achieve a positive result.
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“Yes, I am very pleased with the (players’) dedication,” said the former Kyrgyz Republic national team boss. “In general, the game went well.
“During the break I made a remark and the guys fought to the end, tried their best, and the game was hard-fought. As a result, the victory was ours.
“I am glad that this is the first victory, not only for our Kochkor-Ata, but also for our country in the (AFC) Cup, since we are participating for the first time.”
While Khujand had the experience of participating in last year’s AFC Cup group stage under their belts, the cold, muddy conditions made life difficult for both sides.
Zakirov said it took his players time to adjust to the bumpy pitch but doing so was the key to their success, one which could have been even sweeter had Azamat Omuraliev not been denied by a crucial Mamur Ikramov save in the closing stages.
“The game, as we expected, turned out to be difficult. Many thanks to the organisers for preparing the field, but it was difficult,” Zakirov conceded.
“At the beginning of the game, the guys could not get used to the field, but gradually we began to seize the initiative and then achieved a good result, which I am pleased with - although the score could have been bigger.”
In contrast, Khujand boss Nikola Lazarevic said his side’s inability to come to terms with the surface played a role in their defeat.
“It was hard due to the weather conditions,” said the Serbian boss, who led Khujand in a competitive match for the first time on Wednesday.
“The guys were not used to playing on the field with such quality, but I can say the positive is that they managed to prepare the field before the match. Because of this, the opponent had advantages.”
Khujand will be hoping to overturn the one-goal deficit when they host Neftchi at Dushanbe’s Central Republican Stadium on Wednesday, with the winners to join Altyn Asyr FC, FC Dordoi and FC Istiklol in the 2020 AFC Cup group stage.
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