Settled by first half goals from Shohmalik Komilov and Husain Norchaev, the result confirmed Nasaf as Group F winners, with the 2011 champions taking a maximum nine points and three clean sheets from their week in Dushanbe.
The Uzbek side announced themselves as the team to beat in the very first match of this year’s Central Zone with a 4-0 win over FC Alay, continuing their run with an equally impressive 3-0 victory against FC Khujand.
Those wins meant Nasaf needed only a draw against Altyn Asyr to advance, but Norchaev’s header, which made it 2-0 after 35 minutes, meant the race to the knockout stage had effectively been run and won long before the final whistle.
While Thursday’s match was Nasaf’s 14th competitive fixture of 2021, Altyn Asyr’s season had only begun with last Friday’s 2-2 draw with Khujand, and Berdiev credited his side’s superior physical condition as a key reason for their win.
2021 AFC Cup: FC Nasaf 2-0 Altyn Asyr FC
“I’d like to thank the players and congratulate the fans, because we have qualified for the next round,” says Berdiev, who led Nasaf to second place in the Uzbekistan Super League last season.
“In the first half, we knew our opponents were not physically ready for the game and it was in the first half that we were able to score the two goals and win the match.
“My players prepared for this tournament very seriously and that’s why we were able to win all the matches.”
Altyn Asyr’s third match in six days may have explained the absence of regular first choice players and Turkmenistan internationals Altymyrat Annadurdyyev and Mihail Titov in the starting line-up, with both emerging as second half substitutes.
What is beyond doubt, according to head coach Yazguly Hojageldiyev, is that Altyn Asyr’s relative dearth of competitive football hampered their chances of securing a third knockout stage appearance since 2018.
“We had a challenging preparation for this tournament, and we couldn’t qualify from the group,” says Hojageldiyev.
The next challenge for Nasaf on the road to November’s AFC Cup Final is Altyn Asyr’s Yokary Liga rivals Ahal FC, who impressed in Bishkek by winning both of their matches in Group E.
Those matches will be played in August, with the winners to advance to the Inter-zone play-off semi-finals the following month.