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Sepahan flying Iranian flag 
AFC - Sepahan, who won the Iranian Pro League in 2002/3, make their AFC Champions League debut today (Tuesday) when they meet Neftchi Fergana, of Uzbekistan in the opening game of Group D.
Sepahan, the first team outside Tehran to win the league, are currently sixth in the 2003/4 standings, 10 points behind the leaders, and know that a good run in Asia's premier club competition would go some way to showing that last year's triumph was no flash in the pan.
Neftchi, who were runners-up in the Uzbekistan league, are not new to continental competition having played in last year's Champions League and two editions of the Asian Club Championship.
Beating Sepahan away from home may prove to be a tall order for the visitors, whose are struggling with injuries to a number of key players and who have traveled to Iran without any national team players, currently preparing for the World Cup qualifier with Iraq on February 18.
The Uzbek outfit, who are coached by Yuriy Sarkisiyan, are further hamstrung by the fact that the domestic season has yet to start in Uzbekistan, while Sepahan are 20 games into the domestic programme.
"We haven't played since last season and only today will I show my hand, even about the new captain, but I won't speak of the result," said Sarkisiyan, who is expected to name sweeper Sergey Lebedev his captain on the night.
Sepahan, nicknamed the Warriors, have problems of their own, with striker Edmond Bezik, their leading scorer last season, on the sidelines injured and fellow front man Rasoul Khatibi is famous as much for the chances he missed as he is the ones he takes.
The jewel in Sepahan's crown is undoubtedly Moharram Navidkia, the Olympic and national team player who dictates the play for Farhad Kazemi's side.
"We have an ideal chance as host, and with the backing of Esfahani fans, we only think of winning the game and qualifying for the next round," said Mohammad-Reza Saket, a director of the Sepahan board.
"We have completely analysed Neftchi. They are patient and have a good physique but we will find the way to success. We will prove that football is for all of Iran, and with this motto we will carry on towards greater honours."
Al Ittihad, of Saudi Arabia, and Al Arabi, of Kuwait, are the two other teams in the group. They meet on Wednesday in Jeddah.
Today's game kicks off at 14.30 local time.

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