Domestic Leagues

Central Asia Wrap: Iran Pro League kicks off, Bunyodkor postpone Pakhtakor party


Bishkek: Persepolis made an underwhelming start to their Iran Pro League title defence, while Pakhtakor squandered a chance to become early champions in Uzbekistan, in the latest week of Central Asian domestic football.

Elsewhere, Altyn Asyr land a significant blow in their bid for title number seven, plus the four Turkmenistan Cup semi-finalists confirmed.

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IR Iran: Persepolis held as 2020-21 title race gets underway

Islamic Republic of Iran’s top flight league is back up and running, but it was a slow start for the competition’s defending champions, as Persepolis were held to a goalless draw.

Their cause not aided by the 79th-minute sending off of Kamal Kamyabinia, the 2020 AFC Champions League finalists were blunted by Saipa, a side that finished just two points clear of relegation in 2019-20.

Fellow Tehran giants Esteghlal made a more positive start to their campaign, beating newly promoted Mes Rafsanjan 2-0 thanks to second half goals from Vouria Ghafouri and Arsalan Motahari.

Also on the early winners’ list were Gol Gohar, who won 3-1 against Sepahan, while Shahr Khodro and Nassaji Mazandaran registered 3-0 wins, defeating Machine Sazi and Aluminium Arak respectively.


Uzbekistan: Pakhtakor celebrations delayed by Bunyodkor defeat

The long-awaited coronation of runaway Uzbekistan Super League leaders FC Pakhtakor has been put on hold, after they were beaten by city rivals Bunyodkor with the title up for grabs.

Coming into the match 10 points clear, and with a game in hand, Shota Arveladze’s side would have been an unreachable 13 points clear of second placed Nasaf had they prevailed in Thursday’s clash, but a Nurillo Tukhtasinov brace, coupled with two late Pakhtakor send offs meant there would be no early end to the title race.

Adding to Pakhtakor’s frustration, the upcoming FIFA international window means they won’t have another chance to seal their second title in a row until November 20, when they host Kokand-1912.

Despite their loss – their first in the league in 18 matches – it would take a disastrous loss of form for Pakhtakor to miss out on the title, with four more opportunities still lying ahead when their national team contingent return from Dubai in just over a week.


Turkmenistan: Altyn Asyr race clear, Cup semi-finalists confirmed

As in neighbouring Uzbekistan, there is a clear frontrunner in the race to becoming champions of Turkmenistan, particularly after Altyn Asyr breezed past their own remaining title rivals, Ahal, on Wednesday.

The result – delivered thanks to a double from Altymurad Annadurdiyev and a further strike from Mekan Saparov – extends Altyn Asyr’s lead at the top of the table to 12 points, meaning the holders require a maximum of seven points from their final five matches to claim an unprecedented seventh consecutive league title.

While the league title appears to be slipping out of Ahal’s reach, they will be given the opportunity to earn a measure of revenge in the semi-finals of the Turkmenistan Cup, where they were drawn to face Altyn Asyr after both sides advanced from the last eight on Saturday.

Ahal squeezed through 4-2 on penalties after a second successive 0-0 draw with FC Ashgabat, while Altyn Asyr proved far too strong for Energetik, winning 10-0 on aggregate after 3-0 second leg win.

The other semi-final will feature Shagadam and Kopetdag, who scored aggregate wins over Nebitchi and Merw respectively.


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Photo: FC Bunyodkor

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