This Friday starts the action for the Central Asian zone for this group in which all matches will take place in Dushanbe and comprises all the former Soviet republics in Central Asia
The most notable fact is the return of Nasaf to the competition after 10 years of having played it and in which they won the title becoming the 1st Uzbek club to win an Asian club competition and will try to repeat the same performance like in 2011
It will be the 2nd time that Nasaf will face Turkmen opposition, the previous and only time was in the 2001-02 Asian Club Championship where they played against FK Kopetdag Ashgabat and 1st time that they will play against a Kyrgyz team: Alay Osh
Alay returns after 2 years of absence, last year the competition was cancelled due to the pandemic
Alay have been playing in the AFC Cup since 2014 only to being absent in 2015 and last year as it was said, it will be the 1st time that they will play against an Uzbek club, it will be the 3rd time that they will face Altyn Asyr, the 1st time was in 2017 and the next one was one year later and in all these matches they lost against the Turkmens and they also have faced another Turkmen club, FK Ahal in 2018 and 2019.
It will be the 2nd time that they will face a Tajik club because in the 2017 they faced Istiklol who would reach the final in that year and in 2017 they shared the same group with compatriots Dordoi Bishkek, it was the 1st time in the AFC Cup history that 2 Kyrgyz clubs were placed in the same group, it was a milestone for Kyrgyz football because even in the now defunct AFC President´s Cup that didn´t happened as in that competition only the country champion represented their respective country
Altyn Asyr who were finalists in 2018 their best ever performance in the competition have played uninterruptedly since 2015, last year they had to have played the AFC Cup but this was cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic, they have established themselves as the driving force in Turkmen football having winning thir league since 2014 and thanks to this it has been possible to qualify for the competition and also thanks to the dissapearance of former champions and also former AFC President´s Cup champion FC HTTU who sadly were disbanded in 2016
They will face Alay again having played against them in 2017 and 2018, its the 1st time that will play against an Uzbek club and it will be a very interesting test for them to play against one of the most important teams of the continent and also a team from a country like Uzbekistan who is the most representative Central Asian country in AFC competitions with Pakhtakor and Bunyodkor having reached the ACL semifinals twice
Khudjand the group host will try to take advantage of that condition to fight for a place in the next stage but they will face strong opponents like former champions Nasaf and former finalists Altyn Asyr
It will be the 2nd time that they will place an Uzbek club, the prevous and only time so far was in the 1998-99 Asian Cup Winners Cup where they played against Pakhtakor Tashkent
In their balance against against Turkmen clubs they have played against Ahal and they will face Altyn Asyr again because they met each other in 2019 and against Kyrgyz clubs they have played against Dordoi Bishkek and Neftchi Kochkor-Ata
This Friday starts the participation of the Central Asian teams in the tournament with Dordoi being the favorite to qualify as they are the group hosts and will look to finally progress to the next stage since they started playing in the AFC Cup after many years playing in the now defunct AFC President´s Cup and in which this year marks 15 years that they won their 1st major trophy, their 1st continental honour and the 1st one for Kyrgyz football too.
In a group that reminds me the AFC President´s Cup group format it will be the first time that Dordoi will play against Ahal and Ravshan
Dordoi has been used to play against the big teams from the other Central asian countries (former Soviet republics) Istiklol and Regar TadAZ from Tajikistan, Balkan, Altyn Asyr and FC HTTU Ashgabat
Dordoi and Ahal will meet again, the last and only time both played each other was 7 years ago at the AFC Cup preliminaty round in which Ahal won 1-0 in Ashgabat but in relation to the other encounters it will be the 1st time that Dordoi will play against Ravshan and 1st time that Ravshan will face Ahal
Ravshan makes their return to the competition after 7 years of absence, last time they played in group A
It will be the 1st time that Ravshan will play against a team from another Central Asian country (former Soviet republic) so far they have face arab teams thanks to their 2 appeareances in the AFC Cup
It will be the 2nd time that Ahal will play against a team from Kyrgyzstan after they faced Alay Osh in the 2018 AFC Cup and will be also the 2nd time they will face a team from Turkmenistan and 3rd time that will face a team from Tajikistan as they played against Altyn Asyr and Istiklol and Khudjand respectively in previous AFC Cup editions, against Khudjand was 2 years ago, aganst Istiklol was in 2015 and 2018 and against Altyn Asyr was 3 years ago.
Debutants Istiklol from Tajikistan has surprised everyone by winning their group in their 1st attempt in the AFC Champions League after impressive results against 2019 ACL Champions Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia, Shabab Al Alhi from UAE and debutants AGMK from Uzbekistan, these series of performance will remaing forever in the memory of the Tajik and Asian football fans, in the round of 16 Istiklol will play against last year finalists Persepolis from Iran.