FC AGMK, Al Gharafa seek AFC Champions League group stage cheer

AGMK qualified for the 2021 AFC Champions League playoff after finishing third in last season’s Uzbekistan Super League. Should they come away from Suheim bin Hamad Stadium with a win, they would join FC Pakhtakor, FC Bunyodkor, PFC Lokomotiv, FC Nasaf, FK Mash'al Mubarek and FC Neftchi Fergana as clubs that have represented Uzbekistan in the competition.

For Al Gharafa, victory on home soil would signal a return to the group stage for the first time since 2018 for a club that once appeared in five consecutive editions of the AFC Champions League.

The domestic form

Al Gharafa qualified for the playoff after finishing fourth in the 2019-20 Qatar Stars League. Since then, their form has dipped slightly and they currently find themselves sixth in the league table, but AFC Champions League qualification hopes remain alive as they sit four points behind Al Rayyan in third with two games to go.

A major concern for the Qataris will be their recent form heading into the AGMK tie. Head coach Slavisa Jokanovic’s (pictured below) men lost their last three league games and have just one win in their last six.

Slavisa Jokanovic

Whereas the Qatar Stars League is two matchdays away from conclusion, AGMK’s domestic season has just begun, and they find themselves in fourth place with seven points collected from their opening four matches.

Starting the season with an important win over Lokomotiv, AGMK dropped four points from their next two games, drawing away to Nasaf and losing 3-0 at home to Pakhtakor, but they bounced back with a win over PFC Navbahor to lift their morale ahead of the continental clash.

The continental history

Al Gharafa were perennial AFC Champions League participants in their heyday in the second half of the 2000s, appearing in all but one edition between 2006 and 2012. However, they found success in the competition difficult to come by, progressing past the group stage on only one occasion.

The Qataris best campaign was the 2010 AFC Champions League. Back then, they topped Group A and found themselves facing Uzbek opponents in Pakhtakor in the Round of 16. Clemerson Araujo’s goal was the difference as Al Gharafa advanced into the quarter-finals where they came close to reversing a 3-0 first-leg defeat against Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, but ultimately fell short, losing 5-4 on aggregate.

That 2010 Round of 16 game was the last of three matches Al Gharafa played against Uzbek opponents, all being against Pakhtakor. The two sides had been drawn in the same group in 2008 with the spoils shared in a 2-2 draw in Doha and Pakhtakor emerging 2-0 winners in Tashkent.

Key men

Al Gharafa’s rally to third place last season was propelled by the partnership of Qatari international Ahmed Alaeldin and Ivorian striker Jonathan Kodjia. The pair combined to score 17 league goals in 2019-20 and have been equally as influential this campaign.

Growing into his creative role at the club is Korea Republic midfielder Koo Ja-cheol who will be looking to channel his experience of nearly a decade in European football spent in Germany to support his team’s cause in the AFC Champions League.

Navigating unmapped territory, AGMK can call on the talents of a trio of foreign players.

Ukrainian forward Aleksandar Kasyan (pictured below) was recruited at the start of the season after impressing for fellow Uzbek side Surkhon Termez. He is joined by combative Serbian midfielder Jovan Dokic and flamboyant Dutch winger Alvin Fortis.

Aleksandar Kasyan

Al Gharafa (QAT) vs AGMK (UZB)
Venue: Suheim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: April 7, 18:20 UTC+3

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