Tajikistan champions Istiklol will have to be at their best to stop Qatar Stars League giants Al Duhail in their opening AFC Champions League Group E match in Dushanbe on Tuesday.
Both know a win is important if they are to challenge Group E’s other teams – Persepolis of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr. Istiklol, appearing in the tournament for the third consecutive edition, will not be lacking confidence after a stellar domestic season which saw them achieving the treble.
Their 2022 challenge ended in the group stage and the Dushanbe-based side will be determined to impress despite the daunting task they face. Al Duhail, who have started their 2023/24 season on a good note with two wins and a draw in the Qatar Stars League, will be on a mission to go all the way after suffering an agonising defeat in last year’s AFC Champions League.
Jubilance at qualifying for the semi-finals for the first time was replaced by a 7-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal SFC and Al Duhail will be determined to redeem themselves despite being drawn in a tough group.
Al Duhail coach Hernan Crespo said it will be a tough encounter against the hosts, but was confident of a positive result. “We are here at the start of our campaign in the Champions League and we know that we will face a difficult opponent who will be armed with the presence of their fans and support from the stands, but my team is ready for this match and we will work to emerge from it with a positive result,” Crespo said at pre-match press conference held at the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe on Monday.
Argentinian confirmed former Barcelona and Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho will not make his debut for the club today. “Coutinho joined us recently and he is happy to join the team. We are also happy, but he will not be with us in the match. There is more than one player who will be absent due to injury, but I have confidence in the players and in their ability to provide what is required of them,” Crespo said.
“In the last edition, we reached the semi-final round and succeeded in performing well after topping our group, and this time we will go into the matches with increased ambitions, despite the loss of a number of players including Edmilson.
“The competition is strong, and it is for the champion clubs, and there will be no easy match. We, for our part, will work to provide what is required to qualify to the next round of the competition. The team has a diverse group of players who can cover any absence, and our collective performance method will make the task easier for us,” Duhail coach added.