Uzbekistan: Three-in-a-row for Bunyodkor
Another season is over in Uzbekistan and that now familiar feeling of FC Bunyodkor lifting silverware is here. Having secured a third consecutive league championship and, with it, a 2010 season double when lifting the Uzbek Cup earlier this year football fans in Uzbekistan are starting to ask: who can stop them next year?
It hasn’t always been this way for Bunyodkor. For many years, when they were called PFC Kuruvchi, FC Bunyodkor had to endure the torment of seeing their arch-rivals Pakhtakor Tashkent dominate the championship. In particular from 2002-07 Pakhtakor won six consecutive league and cup doubles and it seemed that their dominance wouldn’t be challenged for a long time.
Since gaining wealthy ownership in recent years FC Bunyodkor have most certainly upped their profile on the international stage by gaining the services of Rivaldo on the pitch and Zico and “Big Phil” Scolari in the dug out and it is this sort of advantage that has allowed Bunyodkor to work their way into such a powerful position in Uzbek football. In a similar fashion to teams such as Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova and BATE Borisov in Belarus, Bunyodkor have challenged the old guard within their domestic league and have now usurped all of their rivals to come out and stay on top. They have won the last three league titles and the only blemish suffered in an otherwise perfect three year spell for Bunyodkor on the domestic stage was their 2009 Uzbek Cup final defeat to Pakhatakor.
Bunyodkor may not have won the 2010 Oily League championship in as dominant a fashion as they did in 2009 but then it was always going to be difficult to equal or better the 22 point margin they enjoyed last season. This time around Bunyodkor had to be content with a ‘mere’ eight point gap between themselves and Pakhtakor, who have been runners-up in each of the three seasons. The club had aspirations to go through the league season unbeaten but, in the end, they were defeated just once by FK Qizilqum with six matches left to play. With Rivaldo deciding to end his contract with the side midway through the season Macedonian Stevica Ristić ended up as the club’s top scorer this season with 13 goals even though he, himself, left the club in September to go to Russian Premier League side Amkar Perm. At least he enjoyed a major highlight in his career by scoring the winning goal in the 2010 Uzbek Cup final in which they defeated Shurtan Guzar 1-0.
With domestic dominance secured the main objective of the club is to go on to continental glory but the club has gone backwards in this area since reaching the AFC Champions League semi-finals in 2008. Having lost out to losing finalists Adelaide United in that year Bunyodkor then lost at the quarter-final stage to eventual champions Pohang Steelers in 2009 but they blew a 3-1 first leg lead in the process and lost 5-4 on aggregate. In 2010 Luiz Felipe Scolari had high hopes that Bunyodkor could go all the way but, sadly for him, his team were knocked out in the Round of 16 stage by Saudi Arabians Al-Hilal by a convincing 3-0 aggregate scoreline and the club had to swallow its pride as yet another season ended in international disappointment and Scolari would ultimately walk away from the job just weeks later.
But with a third league title and second double in three years in the bag life is clearly good for FC Bunyodkor at the moment. But how long will they stay there…….?