AFC Congress

AFC's 63rd anniversary: Seven events that shaped Asian football

Monday, May 8, 2017
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Kuala Lumpur: Monday, May 8 marks 63 years since the founding of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Manila. With more than six decades having passed since that momentous occasion, journeys back in time to highlight some of the key moments in an illustrious history that has  seen it expand from 13 founding members to today’s figure of 47.

And so it began

Formed on May 8, 1954, the Asian Football Confederation’s 13 founding members included Afghanistan, Myanmar, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Indonesia, Japan, Korea Republic, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and South Vietnam.

Two years later the maiden edition of the AFC Asian Cup was held in Hong Kong with four of the founding members qualifying for the finals. And it was to be the Koreans – after following up an opening-day draw with the hosts by claiming back-to-back wins over Israel and South Vietnam – who were crowned inaugural Asian champions.

Korea Republic would go on to retain their title on home soil four years later but, remarkably, the continental powerhouse has not lifted the title since, losing four times in the final.

Club football rises to the fore

Almost 13 years to the day since the birth of the AFC, the first continental club competition kicked off, with the Asian Club Championship featuring six sides from Korea Republic in the east to Israel in the west.

Small-scale compared to the 32-team AFC Champions League of the modern era, the maiden competition proved a visionary, paving the way for club football in Asia to thrive in the ensuing years.

Seven months after Malaysia’s Selangor FA played out a scoreless draw with Vietnam Customs, the Malaysian side would appear in the final against Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv, who went on lift the first Asian Club Championship following a 2-1 victory.

The emergence of Iran

Football in Asia was in full swing by the time the seventies arrived, while a continental heavyweight was just beginning to shine. The Islamic Republic of Iran, as hosts, had claimed the 1968 AFC Asian Cup but what was to follow was complete dominance.

Six nations participated in the 1972 AFC Asian Cup in Thailand as Iran posted four wins from four to retain their title after defeating Korea Republic 2-1 in the final as the Iranians showed no sign of loosening their grip on power.

Back on home soil in 1976, Team Melli peaked as a 1-0 final win over Kuwait capped another perfect record in which they had scored 13 and conceded none. To put Iran’s achievement onto perspective, only Argentina, Egypt and Mexico have claimed three successive continental titles.

A roaring success

Widely considered one of the best Asian players of all time, Cha Bum-kun’s success in Germany was such that many believe he paved the way for other Asians to thrive in the Bundesliga.

After a brief spell with SV Darmstadt 98 in 1978, the forward moved to Eintracht Frankfurt. A Man-of-the-Match performance in the 1979-80 UEFA Cup final win over Borussia Monchengladbach followed, before Cha scored in Frankfurt’s German Cup final victory over FC Kaiserslautern a year later.

Cha joined Bayer Leverkusen in 1983 and scored a late equaliser in the 1988 UEFA Cup final to secure a 3-3 draw with Espanyol, before the German team won their first major trophy from the spot. Cha, still Korea Republic’s record goalscorer, retired after more than 300 appearances in the Bundesliga.

A wonder goal

Asian countries had shone on the global stage prior to 1994, with DPR Korea’s humbling of Italy in 1966 particularly noteworthy, but nothing became as iconic as Saeed Al Owairan’s fabulous solo goal at Saudi Arabia’s maiden FIFA World Cup in 1994.

After losing to the Netherlands and beating Morocco in their opening two group games in the USA, the Saudis needed an unlikely result against an on-form Belgium team that had won two from two. Enter Al Owairan.

The midfielder picked up the ball on five minutes with no apparent danger for the Belgians. Raw pace and power followed as Al Owairan ran three-quarters of the length of the pitch, before finishing with aplomb to score one of the most memorable goals in World Cup history as the Saudis advanced with a 1-0 win.

All eyes on Asia

A groundbreaking moment for Asian football arrived in 2002, when Korea Republic and Japan co-hosted the FIFA World Cup as the global showpiece arrived on the continent for the first time.

Rising to the occasion, both won their first-ever World Cup matches – Korea overcoming Poland 2-0 and Japan defeating Russia 1-0 – before progressing to the knockout round on top of their respective groups.

Japan would fall to Turkey in the last 16, but the Koreans just kept going. Ahn Jung-hwan’s extra-time winner put Italy to the sword, before Hong Myung-bo’s decisive penalty ousted Spain in the last eight.

Germany brought the run to an end in the semi-finals, before a Ronaldo-inspired Brazil won a record fifth World Cup, as the hosts reflected on a job well done.

World champions

Asia is a hotbed of women’s football, and nowhere can the passion be felt more strongly than in Japan, where the so-called Nadeshiko have developed into one of the outstanding teams in world football.

Six years ago in Germany they enjoyed their finest moment when, after qualifying from the group stage, Japan defeated hosts Germany and Sweden in the quarter- and semi-finals to set up a meeting with the USA in the final of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Aya Miyama’s late equaliser made it 1-1 to force extra time and, after the USA had retaken the lead, legendary attacking midfielder Homare Sawa’s 117th-minute goal took the game to penalties. The USA missed their first three as the Nadeshiko ran out 3-1 winners and Asia’s first FIFA world champions were crowned.

Photos: Lagardère Sports