Bunyodkor’s dream season
Having retained the Uzbek Oliy League title three weeks ago, Bunyodkor rounded off the 2009 season in style with a solitary-goal victory away to Mash'al on Thursday. The win was their 28th in a total of 30 games this season which saw them not only consolidate their place at the top but maintain distance between them and their 14 domestic rivals.
Since their formation back in 2005, the Tashkent-based club have evolved into the top side of the Central Asian nation with a phenomenal pace. They spent just one season in the local leagues to earn promotion into the country’s second division that year. There, another season saw them win the second tier in 2006 to progress into the top flight, where they finished their first season as surprise runners-up the next year behind perennial winners Pakhtakor.
But it took them only one more year to dethrone their capital rivals as they won their first Oliy League title in 2008. Even more impressive were their performances in their debut AFC Champions League last year, where they reached the last four. Buoyed by the tremendous success, the young club entered this season in confident form, maintaining a 100 per cent record until 4 October, when they drew 2-2 away against Olmaliq.
Ten days later they were held once again by Paktakor. However, with 17 points clear of their biggest rivals and just six games remaining, it was only a matter of time before they clinched the trophy. That day came on 21 October, when eight-time champions Pakhtakor could only manage a 1-1 tie against Metallurg, a result which made Bunyodkor’s 13-point lead unassailable.
Taking a glance at the caliber of Bunyodkor’s numerous stars it is clear what a formidable team they possess. Leading the attacking line are the seasoned Uzbek international Anvarjon Soliev and Chilean import Jose Villanueva, while at the back taking the job between the sticks is Ignatiy Nesterov, who has made the Uzbekistan goalkeeper’s shirt his own.
Filling the creative void behind the striking duo is reigning AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov while bossing the midfield alongside him is no other than the Brazilian star Rivaldo. His countryman Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed head coach in June to provide the star-studded side with a renewed tactical edge.
Bunyodkor raised many eyebrows not only by their unbeaten record by also by their impressive scoring tally. They finished the league’s offensively strongest team with a total of 85 goals, averaging a little less than three per match. They also dominated the season’s scoring chart with Rivaldo finishing top with 20 goals followed by Soliev only two goals short.
Ambitious as Bunyodkor are, it is no surprise they are keen to translate their domestic dominance onto the Asian stage having won the local league unchallenged. Scolari came with the task of winning both the league and the continental double, but their showing at the Asian stage made the former Chelsea boss aware that there is plenty of room for his side to improve.
They fared well in their second AFC Champions League this year. In the Round of 16 they dispatched Iranian giants Persepolis. The quarter-final pitted them against the eventual champions Pohang Steelers of Korea Republic and despite winning the first leg 3-1 at home, they inexplicably threw away the advantage to lose 4-1 away and were consequently eliminated 5-4 on aggregate.
“I feel like our team is young enough that we can learn from the defeat and it will help us in the future.” Scolari said, “We will have to play the next AFC Champions League in February so we must employ a systematic plan to prepare the team.”