Azizbek Haydarov's inside information on Pakhtakor could be crucial for Al Shabab as they meet the Uzbek league champions in the Champions League, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
Asian Champions League: Marcos Paqueta taps into Azizbek Haydarov's knowledge of Pakhtakor
DUBAI // Al Shabab's Azizbek Haydarov won three consecutive league titles with Bunyodkor in his native Uzbekistan.
On all three occasions Pakhtakor were distant runners-up - by eight points in 2010, 22 points in 2009 and 11 points in 2008. And in all those three years, Bunyodkor never lost a league game to Pakhtakor.
Haydarov, who has played for Shabab in the Pro League since 2011, will be hoping he can keep that proud record going against Pakhtakor when his team kick off against the Uzbekistan league champions in tonight's Asian Champions League Group B game at the Al Mamzar club.
Marcos Paqueta, the Shabab coach, has consulted his Uzbek midfielder and the information provided by Haydarov forms the core of the Brazilian's strategy for tonight's game.
"We do have a player from Uzbekistan, Haydarov, and he has given us some information," Paqueta said. "We have watched one or two of their matches, as well. We know they are a very young team and they are very quick, so we really have to give our complete focus on the pitch."
Murod Ismailov, the Pakhtakor coach, expects Haydarov will play an important role in tonight's duel, but he does not believe the midfielder's input will be of much use to Shabab as his team have evolved since the midfielder moved to the UAE.
"We know Aziz well because he is from Uzbekistan and he has played against Pakhtakor several times," Ismailov said.
"But what does Aziz know about Pakhtakor? I think he might not have a lot of information about the current Pakhtakor team because we have changed our squad in the last two or three years. We have a lot of young players now. But I am sure Aziz will give his 100 per cent against Pakhtakor."
Shabab will certainly need that, or even more, from Haydarov and his teammates as they try to bounce back from the 2-1 loss at Lekhwiya in their opening match.
Pakhtakor started with a 1-0 home win against Saudi Arabia's Al Ettifaq and Paqueta believes the Uzbeks have an advantage over his team, as they have just started their domestic season.
"We at Al Shabab are suffering a little bit from the pressure of matches because we are playing in different competitions at the same time," Paqueta said. "Pakhtakor have just started the league so they are fresher than our team."
Luiz Henrique, Shabab's Brazilian midfielder, agreed with his coach, but said: "Even though we are playing in many competitions at the same time, I believe we have had adequate rest for this game and we are now ready for Pakhtakor.
"We are conscious that we will face a good team, but we will try to give a good performance and make up for the loss in the first game."
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE