Kuala Lumpur: With Air Force Club and Altyn Asyr set to lock horns in the 2018 AFC Cup Final on Saturday, join the-AFC.com as we recall how the Iraqi side won their second successive title only 12 months ago.
This will be the first AFC Cup final in history to witness a side from Turkmenistan after Altyn Asyr knocked out DPR Korea's 4.25. On the other hand Air Force Club are one win away from becoming the first club to ever win the AFC Cup three consecutive times.
One year ago, Air Force Club had to defeat another team from central Asia, FC Istiklol of Tajikistan, in the final to lift the trophy.
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Air Force Club entered the 2017 AFC Cup as the reigning champions, and showed their intent from the start in a group that included Syria's Al Wahda, Bahrain's Al Hidd and Lebanon's Safa Club. The Iraqis topped the group with an unbeaten record, while conceding only two goals.
On the other hand, Istiklol were the most dominant attacking force in the competition as they topped their group with 16 points, bagging 15 goals against Altyn Asyr and Kyrgyz Republic pair Dordoi and Alay Osh.
Air Force Club brushed aside Baghdad rivals Al Zawraa in the Zonal semi-final then bettered Al Wahda again in the Zonal final to book their place in the competition's final.
In turn, Istiklol confirmed their date with Air Force Club after overcoming Ceres Negros in the Inter-Zone Semi-Finals then JSW Bengaluru in the Inter-Zone Play-Off Final.
Istiklol were to host the AFC Cup final for the second time in three years, after they had lost the 2015 final to Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim in Dushanbe. This time, Hisor Central Stadium was the host venue, with 20,000 fans turning up.
Sebastijan Antic fired the first warning shot for the visitors within just six minutes, the Croatian's header from Humam Tariq's corner kick bounced off the upright. A largely balanced first half ended goalless despite Istiklol's best efforts to take a lead.
Tareq continued to be Air Force Club's biggest threat in attack in the second half, forcing Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev to concede a penalty after a shove on him eight minutes after the restart. Skipper Hammadi Ahmed stepped up but his effort from the spot was heroically saved by Nikola Stosic.
The Iraqi side finally broke the deadlock in the 68th minute, when a cross from Sameh Saeed was flicked on by Ahmad to reach Emad Mohsin who unleashed a fierce half-volley that nestled into the top right corner.
Mohsin's goal would prove to be the winner, despite Istiklol taking the game to their opponents' third for the remaining 32 minutes. Dmitry Barkov's header 10 minutes from time was the closest Istiklol came to equalising, but the Russian's attempt sailed wide.
Air Force Club weathered the Tajik storm for the remainder of the match to celebrate a second AFC Cup title in a row, while there was consolation for Istiklol's Manuchekhr Dzhalilov who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
This year, Air Force Club have made to the final again, where they face Altyn Asyr who had eliminated Istiklol at the group stage, finishing one point ahead of them at the top of Group D.
Can the Iraqi side defeat a central Asian side for the second year running to win the title, or will the Turkmen team have a different say at Basra Sport City Stadium on Saturday? All will be revealed after the final on Saturday.
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