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Al Ahed clinch historic title

Kuala Lumpur: Al Ahed FC became the first Lebanese club to win the AFC Cup, emerging as 1-0 winners over DPR Korea’s 4.25 SC in Monday’s final at Kuala Lumpur Stadium.

A second-half header from Issah Yakubu proved decisive for Bassem Marmar’s side, who navigated the entire knockout stage without conceding a goal on their way to a maiden Continental title.

Al Ahed spent much of the match in the ascendancy, with 4.25’s cause damaged by an early red card to goalkeeper An Tae-song, with Yakubu’s winner coming after a number of earlier chances had gone begging.

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With 4.25’s 24 goals in 10 matches marking them as one of the strongest attacking units in the competition, and Al Ahed’s defence bordering on impenetrable, something had to give in the decider, and it was the Lebanese side who controlled the early stages.

Ahmad Zreik fired an early low-trajectory shot across the face of goal for Marmar’s side, and it took a terrific double save from 4.25 goalkeeper An to keep Al Ahed goalless in the 15th minute, with the second stop, which denied striker Ahmed Akaichi from close range, particularly impressive.

An denied Akaichi again when the big forward conjured a chance out of next to nothing four minutes later, but the 4.25 shot-stopper’s night took a horror turn in the 26th minute, when he was shown a straight red card for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity after he hauled down Zreik, who had successfully sprung the offside trap.

4.25 head coach O Yun-son looked to reshuffle his side, replacing captain Rim Chol-min with nine-goal forward Kim Yu-song in the 40th minute, but Al Ahed continued to dominate proceedings, and they should have secured a half-time lead through Akaichi moments later.

With Zreik to the fore once again with an excellent run and cross from the left flank, former Tunisian international Akaichi poked his effort over the bar from just yards out, missing what was effectively an open net, with An’s replacement Sin Tae-song in no position to intervene.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, 4.25 reached half-time still in the contest at 0-0 and, while the one-way traffic continued to flow after the interval, Al Ahed struggled to conjure the goal they needed to go ahead.

The increasingly comfortable goalkeeping substitute Sin made saves to deny both Mohamad Haidar and Ahmad Al Saleh, while Akaichi’s night of near misses continued when he sent Haidar’s cross wide with a 66th-minute header.

But Al Ahed’s nearly uninterrupted  ascendancy finally paid dividends in the 74th minute, when Ghanaian midfielder Yakubu slipped between two 4.25 defenders to head home a superb Hussein Dakik cross, giving Sin little chance from around eight yards.

With their armour finally punctured, the onus was on 4.25 to attack, but it was Al Ahed who continued to create all the chances, with Zreik slamming a low effort into the upright before substitute Hussein Monzer missed the follow-up with an open goal beckoning.

But, while further goals failed to materialise, Al Ahed completed the task of bringing the AFC Cup trophy to Lebanon for the first time, with Yakubu’s header sealing a famous victory for Marmar’s men.

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