FC Pakhtakor to kick off new season with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai clash in Tashkent

AFC Champions League finalists in 2015 as Al Ahli FC, the Emirati were merged with fellow Dubai-based clubs Al Shabab and Dubai SC to form Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, and as a result were ineligible to play in the competition for two years.

Their Monday hosts, Pakhtakor, have not reached the AFC Champions League knock-out stages in a decade. And as they look to replicate the form that saw them reach back-to-back semi-finals in the first two editions of the competition, they spent big in the transfer market.

With Georgian coach Shota Arveladze entering his third year at Pakhtakor Stadium, the club brought in former Bayer Leverkusen and Galatasaray forward Erin Derdiyok. The Swiss international will partner former FC Nasaf forward Dragan Ceran up front.

In 2018-19, Shabab Al Ahli lifted the UAE President Cup to qualify to the 2020 AFC Champions League, but also finished runners-up in the UAE Pro League, six points behind champions Sharjah. This time around, they are determined to bring the domestic title home, finding themselves with a six-point lead at the top of the table.

Their focus now turns to the continental competition where coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena hopes his fortunes with his new side are better than they were back in 2018 when he was in charge of Al Wasl and failed to collect any points, finishing bottom of Group C.

Leading the line for Shabab Al Ahli is Spanish forward Pedro Conde, signed in January from fellow UAE Pro League side Bani Yas where he had bagged 18 league goals the previous season.

They also have AFC Champions League experience in their ranks in 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil and former Al Wahda winger Leonardo; the second highest scorer in the 2019 edition with nine goals.


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