Ravshan clinched their second title beating Khatlon 1-0 in the Dushanbe final. En route to the showpiece, the second-tier outfit overcame Istiklol 4-2 in the quarter-finals, before edging past Regar-TadAZ 1-0 in the semis.
We hand-pick five players who are set to perform in Tajikistan’s top tier in 2021.
Elchibek Rashidbekov (CSKA)
Brought in to bolster the CSKA strike force, the front man signed from local rivals Dushanbe-83 in January. He plundered six goals in 18 appearances last season.
Ilhomjon Barotov (Istaravshan)
The league’s top marksman in 2020 with an 18-goal haul, the forward tucked in an impressive five goals in the season’s penultimate tie. The 30-year-old will be looking forward to his fourth consecutive season with the Northern Tigers.
Alisher Dzhalilov (Istiklol)
A Lokomotiv Moskva youth system graduate and former Rubin Kazan employee, the creative 27-year-old has settled into his role as Istiklol skipper. In 2020, the playmaker netted 12 league goals.
Dilshod Bozorov (Khujand)
At 31, the No10 converted eight times as Khujand finished runners-up last season. The Tajikistan international, who joined the club in 2015, could be a key player in 2021.
Amirdzhoni Farruhzod (Ravshan)
Farruhzod contributed six goals in Ravshan’s second tier-winning campaign, as well as proving to be an important component in their unlikely 2020 Tajik Cup triumph.
Istiklol won their ninth title, while Regar-TadAZ faced first-time relegation.
Istiklol lifted their ninth Tajikistan Higher League trophy in a campaign described by coach Vitaliy Levchenko as “intense and productive”, and “interesting and difficult” by defender Oleksiy Larin. Propelled by the 7-0 drubbing of top tier debutants Dushanbe-83 in the season opener, the Lions went unbeaten for 15 games until a shock defeat to CSKA in September.
At the other end of the table, winning just three matches, Regar-TadAZ were relegated for the first time in the club’s history. A top-tier contender since the league’s formation in 1992 – lifting the trophy seven times between 2001-2008 – the Tursunzoda outfit dropped down a division, having accumulated a mere 12 points. Lokomotiv were also relegated following a disappointing season; W3 D5 L10.
Top scorer: Ilkhom Barotov
With an 18-goal haul, Istaravshan captain Ilkhom Barotov topped the scoring charts. Tailing Istiklol’s Manuchehr Dzhalilov – who finished on 16 – for most of the season, Barotov’s five goals in the gameweek 17 thrashing of Fayzkand clinched the accolade. The midfielder became the first non Istiklol top scorer in ten years, and Istaravshan’s first since Zokir Berdikulov in 1995.
Champions Istiklol will face Tajikistan Cup winners Ravshan in the 2021 Super Cup on Thursday 1 April. Istiklol qualified for the AFC Champions League, while Khujand and Tajik Cup winners Ravshan entered the AFC Cup.
Barotov hit five as the Northern Tigers demolished Fayzand to seal their spot in the Higher League next season. The striker completed his hat-trick with the standout finish of the fixture; lobbing the keeper from long-range. Ikromov snuck through the Istaravshan back line, and Solekhov fired in late on for the visitors, only for Barotov to hit his fourth and fifth of the match and cap off a resounding victory.
Kuktosh 1-1 Istiklol
( Yodgorov 70; M. Dzhalilov 16pen)
Istiklol’s dip in form continued as the penultimate match of the season finished level in Kuktosh. Yodgorov’s bending effort in the second half cancelled out M. Dzhalilov’s 16th-minute opener from the penalty spot.
Regar-TadAZ 1-2 Khujand
(Ergashev 78; Fathulloev 64, Aliyev 77)
It took until the 64th minute for Fathulloev to break the deadlock, rounding off a weaving run to fire home from an acute angle. Aliyev doubled their advantage with a fine finish on the stretch, as his heavy first touch looked to have escaped him. Regar’s Ergashev hit back immediately as Khujand failed to clear their lines, but his acrobatic manoeuvre was the only response they could muster.
Davlatbekov’s first-minute opener set the tone, turning in from close-range as the keeper spilled into the midfielder’s path. Bobiev dispatched from the spot minutes before the half-time whistle, however, Rashidbekov reduced the deficit converting a Dushanbe-83 penalty in the second period. Mabatshoev put the game to bed late on, rising highest to glance home.
19th-20th September 2020 Tajikistan Higher League Gameweek 15
Khatlon 1-1 Istiklol
(Soirov 45+3; Saidov 47pen)
Istiklol secured their ninth Tajikistan Higher League title with three matches remaining, despite being held to a draw at Khatlon. From a short corner, A. Dzhalilov cued up Soirov to curl in, catching the keeper off guard at his near post seconds before the half-time whistle. The hosts equalised shortly after the restart, as Saidov dispatched from the penalty spot to share the spoils.
Istaravshan 4-0 Regar-TadAZ
(Barotov 22 65 71, Kurbanov 87)
Barotov bagged a hat-trick as Istaravshan thrashed Regar-AZ to bounce back from consecutive defeats. The No10 dinked over the onrushing keeper to break the deadlock, before missing an opportunity to double, riffling off the post from the spot. Barotov’s redemption came in the second half, as the striker scooped in from close-range; the keeper spilling his initial low drive. The frontman arrowed in his third from the edge of the area, before Kurbanov tucked in to cap off an emphatic Northern Tigers victory.
Khujand 1-2 Kuktosh
(Malodustov 36; Siebatcheu 49, Saidkhoja 56pen)
Malodustov’s close-range volley gave Khujand the lead after 36 minutes. Siebatcheu’s second-half header cancelled out the hosts’ advantage, before Saidkhoja stroked in from the spot for Kuktosh to take away all three points.
Boboev glanced in the first of his four goals inside five minutes, connecting with Rakhimov’s pinpoint delivery from the right. Rakhimov’s speculative effort from distance bobbled in to double the hosts’ advantage, before Boboev tucked in goals three and four. The second half under way, Mahamadiev pulled one back for Regar as the Lions momentarily switched off. Boboev steered in his fourth, and A. Dzhalilov capped off a commanding victory, pouncing to side-foot home as the keeper fumbled.
Khujand 2-1 Istaravshan
(Bozorov 10, Fatkhulloev 54; Ashurmamadov 23)
Breaking the deadlock inside 10 minutes, Bozorov fired in at the near post, before Ashurmamadov levelled as a goal-mouth scramble ensued from a corner kick. Fatkhulloev’s second-half strike, however, proved decisive as Khujand edged the Northern Tigers in Istaravshan.
Dushanbe-83 1-1 Khatlon
(Jones 77; Saidov 64)
The sides shared the spoils in the Tajik capital as Jones’ leaping header from Imomnazarov’s whipped delivery cancelled out Saidov’s 63rd-minute penalty.
23th-24th August 2020 Tajikistan Higher League Gameweek 13
Istaravshan 1-2 Istiklol
(Ashurmamadov 23; Panjshanbe 59pen, Soirov 89)
Istaravshan’s 23rd-minute opener against the league leaders certainly wasn’t in the script. As Istiklol failed to clear their lines from a corner, on the edge of the six yard box, Ashurmamadov’s instinctive thump proved too powerful, slipping between the keeper’s gloves to give the 8th-placed hosts the lead. As the end of the first half neared, the Lions looked likely to draw level as A. Dzhalilov was hauled down in the penalty area. M. Dhzalilov’s strike from the spot, however, was acrobatically saved by the Istaravshan shot-stopper, preserving their advantage. It took until the 59th minute for the visitors to level through a second penalty; this time dispatched clinically by Panjshanbe. As the final whistle loomed and the hosts looked to have secured a well-earned point, their hard work was cruelly undone; Soirov tucking in from close range in the 89th minute to clinch Istiklol’s 11th win of the campaign.