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.
Manuchekhr Dzhalilov takes home the match ball in Istiklol’s seven-goal romp over newly-promoted Dushanbe-83.
Dushanbe-83, who finished third in the Tajik second tier last season, got off to a good start. Ghanaian speedster Agbley Jones knocking on the door straight off the bat. However, it wasn’t long before 2019 treble-winners Istiklol cranked it up a notch, and the game sparked into life. Breaking the deadlock in the 18th minute, Ehson Panjshanbe pinged into Turkmenistani No9 Wahyt Orazsähedow, to steer over the onrushing keeper. Five minutes later, Manuchekhr Dzhalilov’s acrobatic volley put the visitors 2-0 up.
CSKA’s Alisher Ergashev and Istiklol’s Ehson Panjshanbe trudged down the tunnel just before half-time in a double dismissal stemming from, what appeared to be, an accidental trip. Within seconds of the restart, Dzhalilov reacted quickest to glance in his second and the Lions’ third. Alisha Dzhalilov curled in a superb free-kick from distance, before M. Dzhalilov’s low blast confirmed his hat-trick. Sheriddin Boboev tucked in their sixth and seventh.
Khujand get their season off to a great start downing ten-man CSKA.
CSKA started brightly, popping it about at the back and pressing high with three-men up top. In the hope of breaching the hosts’ sturdy backline, deep-lying Khujand had resorted to thumping speculative long balls upfield.
Against the run of play, lofty Uzbeki marksman Andrey Sidorov’s powerful header broke the deadlock just before the half-time whistle. Growing in confidence, on 63 minutes Khurshed Beknazarov doubled Khujand’s advantage as CSKA failed to clear their lines.
A second yellow saw CSKA’s Firuz Bobiev dismissed on 67 minutes, though the hosts pulled one back in the 76th minute, Shodibek Gafforov getting his head to a loose ball in a goal-mouth scramble. Sidorov went close again, meeting a cross mid-air to side-foot over, but Manouchehr Ahmadov finally killed off CSKA, converting a penalty late in the day.
All four goals came in the second half – including Shakhrom Sulaimonov’s edge-of-the-box belter – as the top tier newcomers clashed in an entertaining draw in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. A youthful Lokomotiv Pamir side came from behind twice, pulling level for a second time in the 73rd minute, as Azizdzhon Zaripov pounced on a loose ball to dink in and secure the visitors one point.
Khatlon 2-1 Istaravshan
(Baki-Akhunov 53, Boboev 90+4pen; Barotov 10)
Ehson Boboev dispatched a stoppage time spot kick for Khatlon to clinch a 2-1 opening-game victory over Istaravshan. Ilkhomdzon Barotov struck first, inside 10 minutes, putting the vistors in front. However, three-time league winners (1997, 2005, 2009) Khatlon rallied to claim a last-gasp win.
Kuktosh 0-0 Regar-TadAZ
Meanwhile in Rudaki, this year’s Tajikistan Federation Cup winners Kutkosh were held to goalless draw.