Pakhtakor returned to the knockout stage for the first time since 2010 after topping Group B with 10 points. The annulment of Al Hilal SFC’s results meant Pakhtakor had secured their place in the next round before kicking off their Matchday Six win over Shahr Khodro.
Despite failing to make it to the AFC Champions League twice in the past three years, Pakhtakor hold the record for most appearances in the competition amongst Uzbek clubs with 14 times. In fact only Al Hilal, Al Ain and Al Sadd amongst West Asia sides have played in more editions of the AFC Champions League.
Iranian giants Esteghlal continued their revival in recent years by reaching the knockout stage for the third time in four years after finishing second in Group A. Head coach Majid Namjoo-Motalgh’s men had to dig deep to secure their qualification courtesy of a Matchday Six 3-0 win over group winners Al Ahli Saudi FC that helped them edge Iraq’s Al Shorta on goal difference.
Esteghlal’s best moments in continental football date long before the launch of the AFC Champions League. The Iranian side won the Asian Club Championship in 1970 and 1990-91 and finished runners up in 1991 and 1998-99, but since the 2002-03 rebranding of the competition, 11 previous appearances for Esteghlal have produced only one semi-final appearance.
The game at Al Janoub Stadium on Saturday is the third encounter between the two perennials in the competition. Their two previous games came in the 2011 AFC Champions League Group B and saw them exchange wins. Esteghlal emerged 4-2 winners at Azadi Stadium on Matchday Three and Pakhtakor responded 2-1 in Tashkent, with current club captain Igor Krimets scoring the winner.
At the time, both sides were eliminated from the group stage, with the group tickets going to Al Sadd and Al Nassr. Since then Esteghlal have reached the semi-finals in 2013, losing to Seoul FC, while Pakhtakor could not advance past the group stage since 2010. Both sides exited at the group stage in their most recent appearance in 2019.
Pakhtakor (UZB) vs Esteghlal FC (IRN)
Venue: Al Janoub Stadium
Kick-off: September 26, 20:45 (UTC + 3)