Nasaf won the Coca-Cola AFC Team of the Month award for February after their impressive performances in the Asian Club Championship Quarter-finals West in the UAE saw them become only the second Uzbek side to reach the semi-finals after Neftchi in 1994.
The side’s determined defending, controlled counter-attacking and the astute tactical organisation of coach Bakhrom Khakimov combined for 1-1 draws against Al Kuwait and Iranian giants Esteghlal, while the stunning 2-1 victory over hosts Al Wahda sent them into the final four undefeated. Their gritty displays were tinged with sublime moments, such as Numon Hasanov’s superb 25-yard winner against Wahda.
It was a dream result for Nasaf, who only entered the last-ever edition of Asia’s premier club tournament after 2000 league champions Dustlik and runners-up Neftchi failed to take up Uzbekistan’s place in the competition.
Faraz Fatemi’s four goals that helped Esteghlal top the group has earned the 25-year-old striker the AFC Player of the Month award. In their first match against Al Wahda, Fatemi, who was not 100 per cent fit, was brought on as a substitute and equalised for Esteghlal in the 80th minute, eight minutes after the UAE champions had taken a 3-2 lead.
With the contest delicately poised, the former Fajre Sepasi forward then swung the match in Esteghlal’s favour just three minutes later with his second of the night, before teammate Mahdi Hasheminassab capped a remarkable 5-3 win.
Fatemi added two more goals to his personal tally in the 3-0 in over Al Kuwait as he highlighted exactly why coach Mansour Pourheidari brought him in to fill the main striker’s role following Ali Samareh’s departure to Serie A side Perugia.
Kim Ho has been named AFC Coach of the Month after guiding what appeared to be an under-strength Suwon Samsung to victory in the Asian Club Championship Quarter-finals East in Jeju, Korea Republic.
Kim, Korea’s 1994 World Cup coach, led the reigning champions to a 0-0 draw against K-League rivals Anyang LG Cheetahs, before 2-0 victories against four-time J.League winners Kashima Antlers and six-time Chinese champions Dalian ensured the Bluewings topped the group.
Son Dae-ho, the 21-year-old midfielder signed from Myeong Ji University, was one of several newcomers who performed admirably at the Jeju World Cup Stadium in the absence of several Bluewings regulars. In the only game in which he didn’t start, Son scored the second goal against Kashima 10 minutes after coming on in the 72nd minute.
In all three games, Kim played 18-year-old midfielder Ko Chang-hyun, who was claimed straight from high school, and Cho Byung-kuk, a 20-year-old signed from Yun Sae University who’s already challenging for the place in central defence claimed so impressively last year by teenager Cho Sung-hwan.