Bunyodkor, or "creator" if translated into English, seems the most fitting name for the emerging outfit from Uzbekistan, who have caused the biggest surprise, not only on the domestic front, but also in continental competition so far this year. While they remain unchallenged in leading the pack in only their second season in the Uzbek Oliy Liga, the Tashkent-based club has taken the AFC Champions League campaign by storm by reaching the last four in their debut on the continental stage.
The ground-breaking achievements, however, are unlikely to quench Bunyodkor's thirst for bigger success. Under the stewardship of Zico, they play the first leg of their semi-final against Adelaide United on Wednesday, but the former Brazilian star has firmly set his sights beyond that.
"We don't have too much knowledge of our rivals as I haven't watched them play," said Zico ahead of the match in Australia. "However, we will do whatever it takes to win the Champions League."
Since their formation in 2005, Bunyodkor have developed from a local force into continental giants at a stunning speed unheard of in Asia and rarely seen on a world scale.
Under their previous name, Kuruvchi (builder), the newly-formed club began their footballing adventures by winning the championship in the Tashkent region in their debut season, which enabled them to gain promotion into the second-tier of Uzbekistan football. They proved even more successful in their next season, winning 27 out of 38 matches to book their passage into the top flight.
Their momentum seemed unstoppable in their first Oliy Liga season as they finished second in both the league and cup only to perennial giants Pakhtakor, but these results were enough to earn their first shot at the Champions League. The current season has seen them go from challengers to pace-setters, leading Pakhtakor by a solitary point after 23 rounds- and with a game in hand against struggling Shurtan Guzar.
Their debut performance in the Asian arena was similarly impressive, as the team, under former Uzbekistan captain Mirdjalal Kasimov, swept past the likes of two-time continental champions Al Ittihad and Iran giants Sepahan to progress into the knockout stage, where they comfortably eliminated another Iranian side, Saipa, to advance.
Reach for the stars
They burst onto the international scene even before their tremendous quarter-final win over Saipa in September. The Central Asian club raised quite a few eyebrows globally this summer with a series of secret negotiations with the likes of Barcelona trio, Samuel Eto'o, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol. Although they failed to ink deals with any of them, their quest for a big name bore fruit when Brazilian superstar Rivaldo joined them from Greek giants AEK Athens in August.
Bonyodkor's "star policy" paid off immediately as Rivaldo figured prominently on his Asian debut, scoring each in either leg of the quarter-finals to steer his new club to a 7-3 aggregate win over Saipa. The effect was even felt at managerial level shortly after Mirdjalal Kasimov left for the job of national coach in September. The void was filled by Zico, who was quick to admit it was his countryman who persuaded him to take the job. "Rivaldo was the main reason for my arrival in Uzbekistan." the former Japan coach said, "He told me a lot about this country and I am quite happy to work here."
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