A new era
Kuala Lumpur: Korea Republic claimed the first two AFC Asian Cup titles but, after near-misses in both 1956 and 1960, Israel sparked a shift in the balance of power in 1964, paving the way for an even more dominant force to take control.
After back-to-back runners-up finishes, persistence paid off as Israel added a new name to the AFC Asian Cup trophy as they claimed the title in front of their own fans when the country hosted the third edition of the continental championship.
As in the previous two tournaments, four nations played in the Finals with Korea Republic and Hong Kong featuring alongside the hosts and debutants India, who brought a strong track record with them into the competition.
The country had won the gold medal at the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962 – their second in 11 years – but the pedigree counted for little as Israel defeated the South Asians 1-0 in the opening game thanks to a goal from Mordechai Spiegler.
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That set the tone for the host nation and, with further victories over Hong Kong and the Koreans, Israel claimed the title with India finishing second and the Koreans down in third.
Israel were the first nation from the west of the confederation’s sprawling borders to win the AFC Asian Cup, but they set in chain a period of dominance for the region that was picked up by the hosts of the 1964 Finals.
Islamic Republic of Iran had not qualified for any of the first three editions of the AFC Asian Cup, even though the country had made something of an impact at continental level when they won the silver medal at the football tournament in the inaugural Asian Games in New Delhi in 1951.
That achievement was to ultimately pale in comparison with the period of domination the country was due to embark upon from 1968.
With the Finals increased from four participants to five, Iran were joined by Israel, Myanmar, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei in the Finals, with matches played in Tehran’s Amjadieh Stadium.
Iran’s love affair with the AFC Asian Cup began with a 2-0 win over Hong Kong, with both goals coming in the last 20 minutes, before another three victories ensured Mahmoud Bayati’s team claimed their first title with a perfect record of four wins out of four.
Four years later, Iran triumphed again. With the tournament increased to six nations, the format of the competition moved away from the round-robin set-up that had been used in the first four editions to group play followed by knockout rounds.
Iran topped their group ahead of Thailand and Iraq while two-time winners Korea Republic finished ahead of Cambodia and Kuwait in their group.
After Iran saw off Cambodia with a 2-1 win in the semi-final and the Koreans defeated Thailand on penalties, a showdown featuring two nations with three of the four AFC Asian Cup titles between them was set.
Ali Jabbari’s opener was cancelled out by Park Lee-chun to take the game into extra-time, where Hossein Kalani netted the winner in the second period to give Iran back-to-back continental titles.
Even better was to come four years later when, once again in Iran, Team Melli were to emerge victorious and, in the process, set a benchmark that has yet to be equalled.
Another six nations gathered in Tehran for the Finals and once again Iran advanced comfortably to the semi-finals, this time ahead of Iraq and South Yemen in Group B. Kuwait, a newcomer to the tournament, topped Group A with China PR taking second and Malaysia in third.
After Iran saw off the Chinese in extra-time and Kuwait required an additional 30 minutes to defeat Iraq, the holders took on the debutants in the final. An epic struggle played out in front of 100,000 fans at the Aryamehr Stadium – now known as the Azadi Stadium – before Iran eventually prevailed to claim a third straight AFC Asian Cup title.
“Kuwait was very strong at that time, a strong team that climbed to the final of the Asian Cup with Iran,” said Ali Parvin, who scored the only goal of the game that day.
“The game was breathtaking. In the Kuwait penalty area someone made a mistake and I stumbled onto the ball and, by the grace of God, I was able to strike the ball and score.”
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