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AFC Cup Final: The Rise of 4.25 SC

Kuala Lumpur: 2019 AFC Cup finalists 4.25 SC have gone from strength to strength since making their tournament debut in 2017. Their appearance in the climax of the Continental competition is evidence of how far the DPR Korea side have evolved on the Asian stage.

We take a look back at the club's journey through the previous editions of the AFC Cup and review their rise to prominance, their setbacks on the way, and the cusp of glory.

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2017: Continental Debut

The 2017 edition of the AFC Cup introduced sweeping changes in the format of the competition with a zonal system being introduced. Teams were now placed in regional sections for the group stage separated into West, Central, South, ASEAN and East.

It was into this new era of the tournament that 4.25 SC made their historic AFC Cup debut as they and compatriots Kigwancha SC joined Mongolia's Erchim FC in the first East Zone group.

While Erchim ultimately did not trouble the two DPR Korea sides, it was a closely fought battle for the single ticket on offer to the knockout stage.

Neither side could overcome the other in their head-to-head ties after 1-1 and 2-2 draws, but it was 4.25 SC who claimed the title of first East Zonal champions after their away goals in the head-to-head ties proved superior.

Their reward was a place in the inaugural Inter-Zone semi-finals and a meeting with India's Bengaluru FC, the South Zonal champions.

It was to prove a forgettable experience for the East Asians. On a rain-sodden night at Sree Kanteerava Stadium their hosts put three goals past them and would then hold out for a stalemate in Pyongyang to eliminate them from the tournament.

Nevertheless, 4.25 SC striker Kim Yu-song's prolific form in the group stage, where he fired home nine times in six games, did see him earn the Top Scorer accolade.

2018: One Step Further

While 4.25 SC only escaped the Group Stage by the narrowest of margins in 2017, there were no such doubts in their second appearance at the Continental competition.

Countrymen Hwaebul SC, Benfica Macau and Chinese Taipei's Hang Yuan FC comprised their opponents in Group I but 4.25 SC were in imperious form winning all six matches, scoring 23 times and conceding just twice as they comfortably retained their East Zonal title.

A return to the Inter-Zone semi-finals brought with it a clash with the ASEAN Zonal champions Home United of Singapore, and this time 4.25 SC proved more than a match.

The 2-0 win in the first leg in the Lion City was followed up by a 9-1 mauling in Pyongyang as the DPR Korea side surged into the Inter-Zone final, one match away from the tournament climax.

It was here against Turkmenistan's Altyn Asyr, however, that the East Asians came unstuck.

A 2-2 draw at home, snapping their 100 percent record after eight consecutive victories, was decisive as the two away goals put the Central Asians on top and able to see out the return meeting with a 1-1 stalemate to eliminate 4.25 SC on away goals.

Despite going 10 matches without defeat, 4.25 SC had once more exited the tournament. And, again, they claimed the Top Scorer honour - this time via dynamic number 10 An Il-bom, who netted a stunning 12 goals in 10 games.

2019: The Final Hurdle

In each edition of the tournament so far, 4.25 SC have gone one step further and their presence in the 2019 final underlines their Continental evolution.

East Zonal winners for a third consecutive time, albeit pushed hard by a pair of Hong Kong clubs, 4.25 SC overcame two rollercoaster ties in the knockout stage to finally reach the tournament's showpiece event.

Group I: Wofoo Tai Po v 4.25 SC

First was the Inter-Zone semi-final and a return meeting with the South Zonal champions, the region that had eliminated 4.25 SC in 2017.

This time the opponent was Abahani Limited Dhaka of Bangladesh which saw a seven-goal thriller in the first leg, before a 2-0 home win in Pyongyang saw 4.25 SC edge through 5-4 on aggregate.

Inter-Zone S-final 1st Leg: Abahani Limited Dhaka vs 4.25 SC

The ASEAN champions, Vietnam's Hanoi FC, were next and the East Asians were grateful for Kim Yu-song's late leveller at Hang Day Stadium to secure a 2-2 draw in the first leg. A goalless stalemate on home soil proved enough for an away goal victory.

A date with Lebanon's Al Ahed in the AFC Cup final next Monday is their reward with a chance to put DPR Korea club football on the map.

The 2018 hero An Il-bom remains in the side, but it is Kim Yu-song who has re-discovered his 2017 form that is firing 4.25 SC towards glory.

The striker is on nine goals, just one behind current leading scorer Bienvenido Maranon of Ceres Negros, and could become the first-ever two-time AFC Cup Top Scorer.

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