Djeparov Confident Esteghlal Can Reach Quarterfinals

Djeparov Confident Esteghlal Can Reach Quarterfinals
Djeparov Confident Esteghlal Can Reach Quarterfinals

Esteghlal’s Uzbek midfielder Server Djeparov believes his side will overcome compatriot Zobahan in the Round of 16 of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday.

Iranian giant Esteghlal was eliminated from the knockout stage in the 2017 edition of the continental competition by the UAE team Al Ain.

The Tehran powerhouse is once again at the same stage, and the club’s two-time AFC Player of the Year Djeparov is confident lightning will not strike twice, the AFC website wrote.

“Last year our team was different, we’ve completely changed this year,” said Uzbekistan’s most capped player. “A new coach, new players, we have a great team and I think we will get past the Round of 16 of the AFC Champions League this time.”

The midfielder, who was part of the Blues that lifted the Hazfi Cup on Thursday after a 1-0 victory over Khooneh be Khooneh, also stressed the importance of experienced German coach Winfried Schaefer to the team’s fine recent run, which saw Esteghlal qualify from Group D undefeated.

“Coach Winnie Schaefer is a German, and his style of football reflects that,” added Djeparov. “He is a very tactical coach and we play a technical game with many combinations across the pitch. He is also a very good communicator; he talks with each player individually and helps us grow together as a team. You can see in our results the effect he has had.”

Djeparov has won the Asian Footballer of the Year award twice, in 2008 when he played for the Uzbek team FC Bunyodkor and in 2011 while playing in the South Korean team FC Seoul.

He came to Iran last January after being signed by Esteghlal, but was soon sent to Sepahan on loan, where he impressed the Isfahan team.

However, the Uzbek did don the blue shirt of the Tehran club after summer, made his way into the starting lineup after manager Alireza Mansourian was replaced by Schaefer and became the side’s pivotal midfielder.

The all-Iranian clash between two former continental champions takes place on Tuesday as 2010 Persian Gulf Pro League champion Zobahan will host two-time Asian Club Championship winner Esteghlal at the Foolad Shahr Stadium in Isfahan.

Zobahan advanced from Group B after a 1-1 draw with Lokomotiv on Matchday Six saw the Isfahan side finish above the Uzbek team due to a better head-to-head record.

Esteghlal, meanwhile, remained unbeaten in the competition and qualified from Group D with a game to spare to book a first AFC Champions League meeting with the domestic rival.

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