Flashback: 2017 West Asia Zonal Final
Kuala Lumpur: As Air Force Club prepare continue their pursuit of a hat-trick of AFC Cup titles, we recall how the Iraqi side won the first-ever West Asia Zonal final 12 months ago.
Following the introduction of a new format last year, Jordan's Al Jazeera are set to lock horns with the reigning champions for a place in the 2018 AFC Cup final, where the West Asia Zonal final winners face the Inter-Zone final winners.
Air Force Club have only lost one tie in the competition since last year, against Syria's Al Wahda in the first leg of the 2017 West Asia Zonal final.
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Just like this year, the two West Asia Zonal finalists in 2017 came from the same group. Al Wahda and Air Force Club shared the points as their two games in Group B ended in draws; goalless in Al Wahda's adopted home in Lebanon and 1-1 in Air Force's alternative ground in Qatar.
At the end, a single point separated them as Air Force qualified as top of the group, and Al Wahda followed them into the Zonal semi-finals. The two sides went on to book a date in the Zonal final after Air Force Club eliminated local rivals Al Zawraa and Al Wahda knocked out Jordan's Al Wehdat.
Sharing the spoils was no longer an option as the two sides clashed again. Al Wahda hosted the first leg at Saida International Stadium in Sidon, Lebanon.
The Syrians hit the ground running, as Osama Omari bewitched the opposition with a slaloming run, weaving past every defender on the flank and laying the ball out to Anas Bouta who tapped in an early first goal inside just three minutes.
The visitors controlled the tempo of the game after conceding, yet they could not grab an equaliser. Instead, it was Hadi Al Masri's header in the top corner that doubled Al Wahda's lead in the second half.
As Al Wahda players prepared to celebrate a comfortable 2-0 victory, a defensive error at the death allowed the previous season's top scorer Hammadi Ahmad to bag a vital goal for the Iraqi side.
Two weeks on, the sides reconvened at Saoud bin Abdulrahman Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar. Just like in the reverse fixture, Al Wahda looked destined for an early advantage after they were awarded a penalty following a defensive blunder from the home side.
Mohammad Al Ghabbash took aim from the spot, but his effort was saved by Fahad Talib and although Omari tried to score from the rebound, his header went wide. Air Force Club's hopes were still alive.
In stoppage time of the first half, a headed pass from Ali Diab gave a clear cut chance for Al Masri to give Al Wahda the lead but his header ended between the hands of Air Force's goalkeeper.
As the two teams started the second half, Radhi curled a shot from the left side of the box only to find an outstretched Taha Mousa to save the Syrian team and keep the game level.
Al Wahda bogged the game down the middle of the park and forced the Iraqi team not to create any threat until the last few minutes of stoppage time when Humam Tareq sent a pinpoint cross to Radhi who fired a header into the bottom left corner, sending Air Force to the AFC Cup Final.
The Iraqi club went on to win the competition by a goal from Emad Mohsin, claiming their second AFC Cup title in a row. Mohsin, Radhi remain key cogs in the current side, while Tareq - who created the Zonal final winning goal - has moved on to pastures new with Esteghlal.
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