FC Istiklol made sure they stayed in control of Group D with a narrow victory over FC Ahal who in hindsight, probably deserved something from the game. There were two moments of individual brilliance from Fathulloev & Stosic which gave the side from who hail from Tajikistan all three points.

It now puts the onus well and truly on FC Ahal’s domestic rivals Altyn Asyr to get all three points against FC Alay later on today.

Advantage: FC Istiklol

I say later today, by the time this has been published, the game would have already been played. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

If you look at the stats without watching the game, they will tell you that FC Ahal had more of the ball and made over two hundred more passes than their opponents but the way that Mukhsin Mukhamadiev set up FC Istiklol ensured that despite having less of the ball, they still troubled the opposing keeper on more occasions.

What I’m pissed about the most is the fact that I got the final score wrong in the preview. I called it as 2-1 to the away side and when Fathullo Fathulloev put Istiklol ahead at the beginning of the second-half I thought I may have had a chance. Maybe next time, eh?

Anyway, enough moaning from me (for now), I suppose you actually want to know what happened during the game, don’t you?

Istiklol Were Knocking On The Door From The Off

Ehson Panshanbe had the best chance of the opening exchanges, Amirbek Dzuraboev drove forward with the ball and played it to Panshanbe on the edge of the area who unleashed a wonderful curling effort.

Babayev Batyr in the FC Ahal goal was more than equal to it as he tipped it over for a corner with a superb save.

That was the highlight of a first-half where both sides were restricted to long, ambitious efforts which didn’t cause either keeper many problems.  

Istiklol’s skipper, Fathullo Fathulloev, lit up the second-half with a majestic effort to open the scoring. He picked the ball up in a seemingly harmless position on the right-hand side.

What A Goal From Fathulloev

FC Ahal thought it was harmless as well and that caused a big problem, he cut in from right, beat one player and then pinged it in the bottom corner with his left foot.

I presume Fathulloev is weaker on his left side considering he was cutting in with his right. Either way, it was a helluva finish. Just before he strikes the ball he’s got SIX FC Ahal players within ten yards of him but he still finds a way to score. Top work.

After that, FC Istiklol relaxed their game a little bit and let FC Ahal have more of the ball as they had what they were looking for. Even though this was the case, Istiklol still looked a real threat on the counter; nevertheless, FC Ahal looked the more likely of the two to get the next goal.

What A Save From Stosic

Some good work on the left from Merdan Kurbanov nearly created a goalscoring opportunity for a teammate, Nikola Stosic in the Istiklol goal had other ideas.

Kurbanov decided to take things into his own hands moments later as he played a precise one-two, cut in from the left and decided to test Stosic. What followed caused me to put this on our Twitter…

After Stosic kept that one out, you could see the dejection amongst the home side as they knew that they were not getting anything beyond the Serb in Istiklol’s goal. A warrior like performance from Nikola. Let’s not pretend though, that name belongs to a girl.

Regardless of whether or not you agree that it’s a name fit for a female rather than a man (it is), no-one can deny that his performance between the sticks gave Istiklol all three points. Providing Altyn Asyr win, which they should, it will make the game next week very interesting and I can’t bloody wait.

Until the next time.