Bishkek: Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol reaffirmed their reputation as the best team in Central Asia’s only active league, bagging nine goals in their first two league matches to race to the top of the league table.
As one of the only active leagues in world football, action both on and off the pitch has attracted a surge of international interest in the Tajik title race, while Turkmenistan’s Yokary Liga will return next Sunday.
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Tajikistan: Istiklol on cloud nine, Khatlon stun Khujand
Istiklol’s status as the kings of Tajikistan’s domestic football scene appears to be under little threat after the eight-time champions began their 2020 league campaign with nine answered goals across two matches.
Vitaliy Levchenko’s men roared out of the blocks, with Manuchehr Dzhalilov bagging a hat-trick in Wednesday’s first-up 7-0 win over newly promoted Dushanbe-83, before Alisher Dzhalilov and Sheriddin Boboev found the net in a 2-0 success at home to CSKA Dushanbe on Sunday.
While Istiklol’s strong start comes as no surprise, 2019 strugglers Khatlon’s surge to consecutive wins from their opening matches was less expected, particularly with the second of those results coming against regular contenders and 2019 runners-up FC Khujand.
Only relegated Panjsher finished below Khatlon last season, but a second goal in as many matches from Parviz Baki-Akhunov helped the league’s southernmost club to a 3-2 win on Sunday, putting them in second place on the table after two rounds of fixtures.
Elsewhere, youthful Lokomotiv-Pamir finished the weekend in fourth place after earning a hard-fought three points against Dushanbe-83, with fellow top-flight newcomers Fayzkand sitting third after a dramatic 3-2 win over seven-time champions Regar-TadAZ.
Khatlon will host Istiklol in the pick of next weekend’s action, while Regar-TadAZ will meet Istaravshan with both sides desperate to register their first win of the new campaign.
Tajikistan: Message of support touches Spain
It wasn’t only on the pitch that Tajikistan’s football caught the world’s attention over the weekend, with a message of support to Spain drawing praise from fans and media in the coronavirus-hit nation.
Major sports daily Diario AS was one of a number of Spanish news outlets to cover Tajikistan Football League during the week, and fans who tuned in to watch Saturday’s match between Lokomotiv-Pamir and Dushanbe-83 were greeted with a signal of solidarity on the Central Republican Stadium’s advertising hoardings.
“Stay strong, Spain. Tajikistan is praying for you,” read the message, which was described by Madrid daily Marca as an ‘incredible gesture of support’.
Sheriddin Boboev continued the display of goodwill on Sunday, revealing a message of ‘We are one. Health and peace to the world. With love, Tajikistan” on his undershirt after scoring the match-sealing goal against CSKA Dushanbe.
Turkmenistan: Yokary Liga set for return
There will soon be two Central Asian leagues in action, after the Football Federation of Turkmenistan confirmed the return of the nation’s top tier Yokary Liga on Thursday.
Three rounds of the 2020 campaign had already been completed in March, but, with no coronavirus infections reported in the country, the eight-team competition has been given the green light to continue from next Sunday.
Defending champions Altyn Asyr – who have only played twice thus far - will face city rivals Kopetdag Ashgabat in the first game back, with the league’s six remaining teams to play on Monday.
Altyn Asyr have been a dominant force in Turkmenistan in recent years, winning the past six domestic league titles.
Uzbekistan: Yakhshiboev’s Energetik finally lose
Jasurbek Yakhshiboev’s Energetik-BGU Minsk finally suffered their first misstep in their Belarusian Premier League campaign, losing 2-0 to Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino on Saturday.
Uzbekistan national team prospect Yakhshiboev had previously lit up the Belarusian competition, scoring three goals in his opening three matches, and he still remains the league’s top scorer.
Yakhshiboev’s compatriot Shakhboz Umarov made a 30-minute cameo as a substitute, while Kyrgyz Republic youngster Emir Shigaibaev is still waiting for his first appearance for FC Neman Grodno, who drew 1-1 with Belshina on Friday.
Photos: Tajikistan Football Federation, Football Federation of Turkmenistan
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