Tajikistan enjoys rare spotlight as Istiklol win Super Cup
DUSHANBE (Reuters) - A rare spotlight shone on Tajikistan soccer on Saturday as the Central Asian country kicked off its new season with most football around the world shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Champions Istiklol came from a goal down to beat Khujand 2-1 to win their ninth Tajik Super Cup in a match played without any fans in attendance.
Global soccer is at a virtual standstill during the health crisis with competitions only surviving in less glamorous leagues, such as Belarus, Nicaragua and Burundi.
The World Health Organization has warned that people in Tajikistan should avoid crowds, although the ex-Soviet Union state has not confirmed a single case of the coronavirus.
A minute’s silence was held at the Central Republican Stadium in the capital Dushanbe ahead of the season's curtain raiser in memory of the COVID-19 victims around the globe.
A large banner, which read: "Stop coronavirus", was placed on the stadium's empty seats.
Uzbek midfielder Sanjar Rixsiboev gave Khujand an early lead before Istiklol scored twice within two minutes in the closing stages through Manuchekhr Dzhalilov and Muhammadjon Rakhimov to win the trophy.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Toby Davis)