Which Tajik team should I support?

Which Tajik team you should pledge allegiance to? Here’s the lowdown.

We have put together this handy guide to help you decide which Tajik team you are going to get behind this season.

The 2021 contenders

Istiklol’s Manuchekhr Dzhalilov

Champions for the past seven seasons, Istiklol could be the club for the glory hunters that walk among us. Led by talisman Alisher Dzhalilov, the Lions’ 2020 winning campaign included a 15-game unbeaten run and a solitary defeat. Comparing his team to Barcelona, the captain describes their playing style as “attractive, well-orchestrated”, but also outlines his clubs “one task: to perform even better [in 2021]”.

Since the turn of the century, newly-promoted Ravshan have etched their name on the trophy twice (2012 and 2013), and Khatlon – Tajikistan’s “own Leicester” according to Diario AS – claimed the title in 2009.

Khujand will also consider themselves contenders; runners-up four seasons on the trot. “Determined to win every game,” newly-appointed Khujand coach Rustam Khojaev stated his “special feeling” ahead of 2021. Underdogs FC Dushanbe and Fayzkand are embarking on their second campaigns in the top tier, and will hope to build upon their debut seasons, having finished six and seventh respectively in 2020. Eskhata feature in the Higher League for the first time in the club’s history.

Istaravshan’s badge

Kit, badge, nickname: who are your clubs’s Tajik counterparts?

Khujand’s first strip of a blue shirt, blue shorts and white socks brings Chelsea to mind, and CSKA Pamir’s all-red garb evokes 2019/20 Premier league champions Liverpool. Istaravshan’s yellow and black colour scheme might win over those who back Watford or Borussia Dortmund, while the purple of Ravshan might seduce the Fiorentina faithful.

In the badge department, Istaravshan’s crest, reminiscent of Leeds United’s between 1984-1998, might tip the scales for some. Fayzkand’s ball-gripping eagle boasts similarities to south London’s Crystal Palace, and the white horse of Kuktosh could be an omen for followers of Ipswich Town and Gillingham.

Kuktosh’s badge

Supporters of La Liga’s Athletic Bilbao might find themselves drawn towards nickname-sharers Istiklol, who also go by ‘the Lions’. Likewise, fans of Millwall will find it easy to slip into song.

“As the Lions run on the pitch,
Everyone will sing, 
Let ’em come, Let ’em come, Let ’em come, 
Let ’em all come down to The Den Central Republican Stadium
Let ’em come, Let ’em come, Let ’em come, 
We’ll only have to beat ’em again,
We’re the best team in London Tajikistan.”

Still undecided? Check out the teams’ profiles below.

CSKA Pamir Dushanbe

Based: Dushanbe (capital city)
Kit colour: red
Best performance: top tier winners x2 (1992, 1995)
One to watch: Elchibek Rashidbekov
For fans of: Liverpool

FC Dushanbe

Based: Dushanbe (capital city)
Kit colour: yellow and black
Best performance: 6th (2020)
Ones to watch: Agbley Jones
For fans of: Watford

Did you know? Dunshanbe have a strong African influence with three Ghanaians – Silvanus Evans, Colins Adukhen and Agbley Jones – Yavis Noah Parfat from Cameroon, and Ivorian Azian Joseph Adolph.

Eskhata

Based: Khujand (north)
Kit colour: blue
Best performance: debutants (2021)
One to watch: Rustam Saburov
For fans of: Everton

Istaravshan

Based: Istaravshan (north)
Nickname: The Northern Tigers
Kit colour: yellow and black
Best performance: 2nd (1995)
One to watch: Ilkhom Barotov
For fans of: Leeds United, Watford

Did you know? Captain Ilkhom Barotov was the Tajikistan Higher League top scorer in 2020 with 18 goals.

Istiklol

Based: Dushanbe (capital city)
Nickname: The Lions
Kit colour: red and black
Best performance: winners x9 (most recently 2020)
Ones to watch: Manuchekhr Dzhalilov
For fans of: Manchester United, Barcelona

Did you know? Newly-signed Ryota Noma is the Tajikistan Higher League’s first Japanese player.

Alisher Dzhalilov, Istiklol captain: “You can compare Istiklol with Real Madrid or Barcelona, who also dominate in their league with attractive, well-orchestrated football.”

Fayzkand

Based: Vose (south-west)
Kitcolour: red
Best performance: 7th (2020)
Ones to watch: Anvar Murodov
For fans of: Crystal Palace

Khatlon

Based: Qurghonteppa (south-west)
Kit colour: yellow
Best performance: winners x3 (1997, 2005, 2009)
One to watch: Parviz Baki-Akhunov 
For fans of: Borussia Dortmund

Spanish newspaper Diario AS: “Tajikistan already has its own Leicester.”

Khujand

Based: Khujand (north)
Nickname: The Pitmen
Kit colour: blue and white
Best performance: runners-up (2020)
One to watch: Dilshod Bozorov
For fans of: Chelsea

Did you know? The Pitmen played and won their first football game 4-1 in 1925 “on a dry and empty field” against opposition from the northern area of Jabbor Rasulov.

Kuktosh

Based: Kuktosh (west)
Kit colour: yellow and blue
Best performance: 3rd (2018)
One to watch: Muhiddin Odilov
For fans of: Ipswich Town, Gillingham, Oxford Town, Sweden

Ravshan

Based: Kulob (south-west)
Kit colour: purple and white
Best performance: winners x2 (2012, 2013), Tajik Cup winners (1993, 2020)
One to watch: Daler Shomurodov
For fans of: Fiorentina, Toulouse

Did you know? The newly promoted club won the Tajik Cup in 2020 despite being in the second tier. They defeated Khatlon 1-0 in the showpiece to etch their name on the trophy again.