FC Nasaf will aim to capitalise on home ground advantage and greater match fitness in Wednesday’s AFC Cup Inter-Zone Semifinal against ATK Mohun Bagan of India.
The 2020 Uzbekistan Super League runners-up will play the make-or-break clash in the familiar surrounds of Markaziy Stadium, a venue where they have tasted defeat just twice in 11 home matches this season, including their 3-2 win over Turkmenistan’s FC Ahal in the previous round of the continental tournament.
In contrast, ATK Mohun Bagan have had to travel via Dubai in their bid to advance to next month’s Inter-Zone Final against Lee Man FC of Hong Kong, and have been out of league action since March, with three AFC Cup group stage fixtures in August their only competitive action in over six months.
Nasaf are match fit, focused and in form, defeating Turon and Qiziqum in their last two league outings, with a home defeat to Navbahor – caused in part by a red card to Oybek Bozorov – their only slip up since last month’s win against Ahal.
Chasing the trophy, a decade after the club won it in 2011, the settled nature of Ruzikul Berdiev’s outfit is underlined by the fact there are no changes to the squad which successfully navigated the Central Asian Zonal Final last month.
Serbian duo Marko Stanojević and Andrija Kaluđerović – both goal scorers against Ahal – may be well known to fans from outside Uzbekistan, but Nasaf’s strength lies in their deep pool of young local talent, with Sherzod Nasruallev, Khusayin Norachaev, Akmal Mozgovoy and Khusniddin Alikulov all under 25, and all influential in the competition so far.
Berdiev’s charges have been proven impossible to contain in Asia this season, averaging 67 percent of possession and 21 shots at goal per outing over their four fixtures and scoring multiple goals in every match.
Faced with a formidable opponent and unfamiliar territory, ATK Mohun Bagan will need to cover for the departure of central defender Sandesh Jinghan, who has joined Croatian club HNK Šibenik since the 1-1 draw with Bashundhara Kings which saw the Indian side advance as South Asian Zonal champions.
Hugo Boumos is also out injured, having been omitted from the squad to make way for Joni Kauko, a newly signed midfielder who appeared in all three of Finland’s matches at UEFA Euro 2020 earlier this year.
What Antonio Lopez Habas’ lack in competitive preparation matches, they hope to make up for in talent and ambition.
The star attacking duo of Roy Krishna and David Williams have travelled after combining for three of the team’s six goals in the group stage, while goalkeeper Amrinder Singh will be aiming to build on a positive start to life at ATK Mohun Bagan.
Fans of the Kolkata-based side will, at the very least, be expecting a far better result than the last Indian team to venture to Karshi for an AFC Cup clash, with Dempo suffering a 9-0 defeat in the group stage back in 2011.