Sarkisyan not worried by absent strikers

Group C leaders Neftchi enter Wednesday’s match against Al Sadd without either of their first-choice strikers but coach Yuri Sarkisyan believes that his team have enough firepower to down the Qatari side and cement their place at the top of the group.

Anvar Berdiev and Ilya Kovalenko have started all three of Neftchi’s matches up front but neither forward is available this week after picking up their second yellow cards of the competition in their 2-0 loss to Al Sadd in Doha two weeks ago.

However, Sarkisyan has downplayed the absence of the pair and feels that he has adequate cover in attack.

“We are missing two strikers but we have enough players to replace them,” said the veteran Neftchi coach.

“Fortunately, we have no injured players and defender Nasim Shoimov will be able to return after being suspended from the match in Doha after receiving two yellow cards.”

The loss in Doha has been the only blemish so far this season for the Fergana side, who are top of the Uzbek league with six wins in six matches and remain two points clear in Group C after defeating Al Najaf 1-0 and Al Karama 2-1 in earlier AFC Champions League matches.

Sarkisyan is hoping that his side can regain their momentum on Wednesday and consolidate their position as they attempt to reach the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League for the first time.

“We hope to win this match so that we can continue to lead the way in the group,” he said. “We play two of our remaining three games at home and if we win both we should be able qualify for the quarter-finals.”

However, the 59-year-old appreciates that it will not be easy to advance from what he believes to be the toughest group in the competition.

“All of the teams have a chance to win this group. Even the most experienced team in group, Al Sadd, have lost two matches while Al Najaf who lost to us in their first match, have managed four points from their last two away matches.

“We will have to see how the next matches go but it is an interesting battle in the toughest group in the AFC Champions League.”

Neftchi warmed up for the match by defeating Metallurg 2-1 last Friday with goals by Berdiev and Nosirbek Otakuziev, the club’s top scorer last season.

Al Sadd have not been in action since a 1-0 defeat to Al Rayyan in the Qatar league on April 15 and arrived in Fergana with a host of selection problems.

AFC Player of the Year Khalfan Ibrahim has been ruled out after undergoing surgery on his cruciate ligament while striker Yusef Ali picked up a thigh injury while playing for the Qatar Olympic team last week.

Midfielder Ibrahim Abdulmaged is also ruled by injury but Wissam Rizik and Abdullah Koni could return after being sidelined by injuries for all of Al Sadd’s previous games.

However, Brazilian striker Felipe and midfielder Talal Al Bloushi are also unavailable due to suspensions.

It is hardly an ideal situation for Al Sadd coach Jorge Fossati.

“Every team suffers from injuries but what is happening with Al Sadd is something that has never happened before,” said the Uruguayan.

“We are in a difficult situation for our match against Neftchi because of the injuries that have sidelined Khalfan Ibrahim, Ibrahim Abdulmaged and Yusef Ali, and the suspension of Felipe Jorge.

“We also require special tactics for our away match against Neftchi as their pitch is not so good and might make it difficult to pass the ball well.”

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