Pakhtakor, Tractor seek winning start to AFC Champions League campaign

The 2021 campaign will be Pakhtakor’s 15th involvement in Asia’s top club competition, a record matched by few teams across the continent. And throughout that journey, the Uzbek powerhouse have recorded some impressive results, including two semi-finals and two quarter-finals.

Wednesday’s Group B encounter at Sharjah Stadium is not the first between the two sides. Pakhtakor and Tractor had been pitted together in the 2016 AFC Champions League group stage, with Igor Sergeev winning the home match for Pakhtakor 1-0 before goals from Saeed Aghaei and Augusto helped Tractor respond with a 2-0 win in Tabriz. Ultimately, it was Tractor who topped the group that year, while Pakhtakor finished third and crashed out.

Since their departure from the 2020 AFC Champions League, Pakhtakor parted ways with Georgian coach Shota Arveladze who served for three years, appointing his assistant Pieter Huistra as new boss. The Dutchman had taken the reins for most of the previous edition of the competition while Arveladze fought COVID-19.

"We have continuity from last year, but every season is an opportunity for a new start, we have new players coming from the academy replacing those who have left. We have a nice mix of experience and young talent, and that is always a good thing," said Huistra.

"On one side you get the knowledge of how to play in these sort of games and from the other side you get the energy of the youth. I try to combine the two and I think the first game will be a good indicator of where we stand.

Playing six games in 15 days will be busy, intensive but also exciting. We came here with our team just after starting our league. We hope and expect to be ready."

For Tractor, one of IR Iran’s most popular club sides, Wednesday’s match signals a return to the competition after two years of absence. Between 2013 and 2018 Tractor had been present in all but one campaign, 2017, with their best result being a Round-of-16 appearance in 2016.

Having finished bottom of their group in their most recent participation, Tractor are currently on a six-game winless run in the AFC Champions League, having last won against Dubai’s Al Nasr SC five years ago.

The Tabriz-based side have faced Uzbek opponents on four occasions in the AFC Champions League, winning just once and losing three times, and their Matchday One fixture against Pakhtakor is an opportunity to improve that record.

"Coming here, we were already aware that we have to face a difficult situation with a game every three days. We made the players aware and prepared them for this situation. We hope that with the millions of fans behind us that we will be successful and get good results here," said Tractor head coach Rasoul Khatibi.

"On behalf of the players and technical staff, I want to give a promise to our fans all over the world that we will be successful. We respect Pakhtakor who are a strong team, but we want to beat them. The most difficult part is missing the fans. We are one of the most popular clubs in IR Iran, so for them to not be able to come to the stadium and play with us, so we will miss them."

Pakhtakor (UZB) v Tractor FC (IRN)
Venue: Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah
Kick-off: April 14, 19:00 (UTC+4)

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