Quarter-finalists last year, Pakhtakor are yet to get their first win of the 2021 campaign, collecting three points from their first four games. Yet another setback will consign the Uzbek champions to group stage elimination.
Tractor are in a slightly better position, sitting second on six points - two behind UAE's Sharjah - but will also need a win to keep their hopes of clinching the sole automatic ticket to the Round of 16.
Coach Pieter Huistra’s Pakhtakor were within three minutes of collecting the three points against Sharjah on Matchday Four, leading through an Eren Derdiyok tap-in at the hour mark, but were clawed late to deny them a first win.
It was not the first time this campaign that Pakhtakor have surrendered a lead in the final minutes. On Matchday One, the Tashkent-based side came back from two goals down against Tractor to lead 3-2 thanks to Dragan Ceran, Sharof Mukhtinov and Hojimat Erkinov, but with five minutes to go, they gave away a penalty allowing Mohammad Abbaszadeh to equalise for the Iranian side.
“Tomorrow is our last chance to maintain our hopes of qualifying, so it is a very important game against Tractor who have not lost even one game so far," said Huistra. "It is vital for us to win tomorrow to have an outside chance of qualifying.
"The first game that ended 3-3 was exciting, we had some good parts in that game but also some not-so-good parts, and we have to do better tomorrow. I hope the result will be different; if we can score three goals again, I will be happy, but we should also concede zero goals for me to be happy.
"In 2020, we showed that we can win against almost any team in the competition, now we have to show it again and we have to deliver. There is no reserve to fall back to after this match, this is the time to let ourselves go all out like we always do."
For Tractor, the 3-3 opening day draw with Pakhtakor was followed by goalless draws against Sharjah and Air Force Club, but coach Rasoul Khatibi’s men finally found the back of the net and returned to winning ways in a narrow 1-0 win over 10-man Air Force Club on Friday.
A win for the side from Tabriz would send them six points clear off Pakhtakor and right into the mix for a ticket to the 2021 AFC Champions League Round of 16 for the first time since 2016.
Should they win, Tractor will also be hoping for Air Force Club to beat Sharjah, allowing the Iranians to move to the top of the group going into the final matchday clash against Sharjah.
“Reaching this game against Pakhtakor and playing against a team that are top of the table in their own league and with players of real value and quality. They came to this competition well prepared, but we also have good players who are in a good mental and psychological state. It is a vital match and we will do everything in our capacity to get the three points," said Khatibi.
"I believe there should be three teams qualifying from this group, not just one or two, based on what I have seen and how challenging the group is. In comparison to other groups, some teams played with younger players and won, but in our group the quality is very higt and teams are closely matched as evident by the points at this stage with all teams still able to qualify.
"Let us put aside the previous game between us and Pakhtakor. Now both teams have a better knowledge of each other, and I hope that tomorrow our every move will be more calculated. I promise our fans that the players will do everything to get the three points tomorrow.”
Tractor FC (IRN) v Pakhtakor (UZB)
Venue: Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah
Kick-off: Monday, 19:00 hours (UTC+4)