Dushanbe: Tajikistan’s footballing powerhouse began 2021 the way they ended 2020, lifting the country’s first piece of silverware of the new season, the FFT Cup, on Saturday.
Vitaliy Levchenko’s men prevailed 1-0 over FC Khatlon thanks to a last gasp winner from Ukrainian defender Oleksiy Larin, whose strike in the fourth minute of added time sealed a sixth FFT Cup title for Istiklol.
The match was played in front of a 5,000-strong crowd at Dushanbe’s Central Republican Stadium, with fans of both sides turning out in numbers at the dawn of a promising new season for Tajik football.
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While Istiklol ultimately prevailed in the competition, they didn’t enjoy it all their own way throughout the tournament.
They suffered a 1-0 preliminary round defeat to Dusanbe-83, when many of their first-choice players were away on international duty and had to come from two goals behind to beat Regar-TadAZ 3-2 in Wednesday’s semi-final.
While Player of the Match Larin was the hero in the final, the tournament may ultimately be best remembered as the arrival of 17-year-old Salam Ashurmamadov, who scored seven goals to finish as the competition’s top scorer.
Long established as the dominant club in Tajikistan, Istiklol will appear in the AFC Champions League group stage for the first time in 2021, with the club drawn alongside Al Hilal SFC, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and a play-off winner.
Earlier on Saturday Regar-TadAZ won the FFT Cup’s third-place playoff, defeating AFC Cup-bound Ravshan 2-1 thanks to a brace from Dilovarsho Ganiev.
Photo: Tajikistan Football Fedeartion
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