Rookies AGMK determined to test Al Hilal in AFC Champions League opener

A COVID-19 outbreak in the squad forced Al Hilal to withdraw from last year's competition, which meant the Saudi Pro League champions could not defend the AFC Champions League title won in 2019.

The 2019 crown was added to the earlier Asian Club Championship titles Al Hilal had in their trophy cabinet and for Uzbekistan's AGMK, the tie at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium promises to be tough test in their competition debut.

Al Hilal come into the 2021 AFC Champions League off a mixed domestic season, which sees them top of the Saudi Pro League but lacking the consistency that they are so famous for.

Their troubles in the league saw Romanian Razvan Lucescu, who guided them to the 2019 AFC Champions League title, bidding farewell with Rogério Micale taking charge in February.

Al Hilal, however, have a very settled squad and Brazilian Micale will be confident he can get his players to challenge for the AFC Champions League title.

"This match is very important as our target is to qualify from this group and reach the next round," said Micale.

"Since I took charge, we have continuously been playing matches, and we didn’t have the time to work with the players. Even when we did have a break, many players were with the national team, but our team has prepared well and got positive results in recent matches, except for one.

"We have seen AGMK’s last six matches, including the play-off match, and we have enough information on them."

For AGMK FC, the 2021 AFC Champions League is a chance to test themselves against the continent's best.

The Olmaliq-based club came close to qualifying for the group stage two years ago, advancing past the preliminary stage only to suffer heartbreak in 4-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr in the playoff.

AGMK made sure they didn't suffer the same fate against Qatar's Al Gharafa in the playoff last week, and the 1-0 win is a warning that their Group A rivals - starting with Al Hilal - should not underestimate them.

Despite playing such an intense match just days ago, head coach Mirdjalal Kasimov said that it would not hinder them from producing their best performance.

"We are opening a new chapter by participating in the AFC Champions League for the first time. We are aiming to reach the knockout stage and make our fans happy by bringing home good results," said Kasimov.

"We did play a few days ago, and we had a long journey to reach here but that is no excuse. It will not interfere for the upcoming match.

"All the coaches trust their players to deliver the results. I think it will be fantastic match tomorrow. They are one of the strongest teams in Asia right now, but we will try to win every situation in the match."

Al Hilal SFC (KSA) v AGMK FC (UZB)
Venue: Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh
Kick-off: 22:00 (UTC+3)

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