Lions hit late double to clinch third consecutive Tajik Super Cup
Trailing in the second minute, in a dramatic turnaround, the Lions fought back in Dushanbe to sink Khujand, striking twice inside two minutes deep into the second half, to etch their name on the trophy for a ninth time.
It was a dream start for 2019’s Tajik top tier runners-up Khujand, going ahead through Sanjar Rikhsiboev in the second minute of play. A measured ball cleaved apart title-holders Istiklol’s back line, leaving Rikhsiboev only the onrushing Rustam Yatimov to beat, and he did, coolly slotting home.
The Lions immediately hit back, the Khujand custodian Mamur Ikramov being called straight into action, batting away in the fourth minute.
Spritely from the get-go, on-loan Uzbeki international Rikhsiboev could have doubled their advantage with a string of early opportunities. An effort pinged in at the near post was denied by the firm hand of Isiklol’s keeper, before a wasted opportunity in the 18th minute was dragged wide, and a lack of composure saw another chance sail over the woodwork moments later.
Set up deep, the Lions struggled with Khujand’s pace on the counter. Time after time, the likes of Bakhtiyor Choriyev and Abdulmumin Zabirov were able to tear through the middle of the park, opening up the unsettled Tajikistan treble-winners all too easily.
The Sprawling Ikramov later pulled off a terrific save to keep out a fine Sheriddin Boboev effort, hurling himself low to parry left-handed to safety, protecting their 1-0 lead at half-time. Midway through the end-to-end affair, however, the game was still very much available for the taking.
Between the Khujand sticks, Ikramov came into his own as the clash progressed. His brave aerial challenges, picking the ball out of the air, had kept the Lions at bay.
With a plan up his sleeve, Istiklol coach Vitaliy Levchenko looked to crank up his side’s attacking intensity before the tie moved into its final third. Midfielder Muhammadjon Rakhimov and Turkmenistan marksman Wahyt Orazsähedow, the coach’s first changes, before Rustam Soirov entered the fray.
The impact of the change in personnel was evident as Istiklol’s Boboev was hauled down, as he advanced into the blue penalty area. Ehson Panjshanbe lined up the free-kick but failing to get it up and over the three-man wall, it was sent spinning out of play.
But, on 77 minutes, disaster struck for Khujand, who were holding on against the Tajik treble winners. Khurshed Beknazarov’s headed clearance landed only as far as Istiklol forward Manuchekhr Dzhalilov – two-time scorer as the Lions downed Khujand in the AFC Cup clash in March – who took a touch before striking on the turn to level the tie.
Moments later, shaken and out of shape, to deepen Khujand’s woes, an upfield punt landed perfectly for substitute Rakhimov, who muscled off his marker and, with an outstretched leg, poked over the keeper to put his side ahead.
Despite a late surge from the blues and for all of Ikramov’s heroics in the Khujand goal, in a dramatic turnaround, Rakhimov’s winner clinched Istiklol’s ninth Tajik Super Cup title.
Man of the Match: Manuchehr Dzhalilov
Istiklol 2-1 Khujand
(Sanjar Rixsiboev 2; M.Dzhalilov 77, Rakhimov 78)
Pamir Stadium, Dushanbe
Saturday 4th April 2020
Previous Tajik Super Cup winners
2013: Ravshan Kulob
2017: Khosilot Farkhor