Tajikistan’s domestic football season kicked off Saturday, as leagues around the world remained suspended to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Super Cup game heralding the beginning of the football season took place behind closed doors, and saw perennial domestic champions FC Istiklol come from behind to beat FC Khujand 2-1 in the capital Dushanbe.
Tajikistan, a poor Central Asian state of 9 million people, has yet to declare a single infection from Covid-19, which has reached over a million cases worldwide and caused more than 60,000 deaths.
Last month authorities oversaw extravagant state celebrations of the Nowruz springtime festival involving tens of thousands of people across the country.
Strongman leader Emomali Rakhmon was seen posing with dozens of young women clad in traditional garb at a time when leaders the world over were advocating social distancing.
In the pandemic’s shadow, the vast majority of football leagues around the world have been stopped over fears for players as well as spectators.
In most cases, there are no clear plans for restarts.
Belarus, another ex-Soviet country, remains the outlier in Europe, and its league has attracted unprecedented international attention since it began with fans attending games last month.
The Tajik Super Cup tie failed to generate the same levels of social media excitement as the Belarusian league fixtures but still prompted tweets from action-starved football fans in German, English and Spanish, among other languages.
The game itself threatened to return an upset before Istiklol, a club founded by Rakhmon’s son Rustam Emomali, the current mayor of the capital Dushanbe, converted their dominance into goals and overturned an early Khujand lead.
It ended in hugs and handshakes all round as FC Istiklol players collected their winners’ medals and lifted the Super Cup trophy in an otherwise empty stadium.
Tajikistan is one of just two former Soviet countries that have not reported a single case of the coronavirus.
The other, reclusive Turkmenistan, has already announced the suspension of its domestic league.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov made his first mention of the coronavirus in comments reported Saturday by state media.