Kuala Lumpur: As the 2019 AFC Cup Inter-Zone Semi-finals draw ever closer, the-AFC.come looks at some of the key stats and facts involving the four teams involved.
The clashes see ASEAN kings Hanoi FC of Vietnam take on Central Zonal champions Altyn Asyr of Turkmenistan and South Zonal champions Abahani Limited Dhaka go up against their East Zone counterparts 4.25 SC of DPR Korea over two legs.
The reward for the winners is a place in the Inter-Zone Final, meaning the stakes are high ahead of the first legs on Tuesday and Wednesday.
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1. The Debutants
While 4.25 SC are appearing in their third successive Inter-Zone Semi-final and Altyn Asyr are back for the second year in a row, it will be a maiden appearance for both Hanoi FC and Abahani Limited Dhaka.
Hanoi will be looking to become the first ASEAN side to reach the Inter-Zone Final, while Abahani are aiming to replicate the 2017 South Zonal champions JSW Bengaluru in progressing beyond the Inter-Zone Semi-finals.
2. Central Zone Dominance
In each of the two years since the Inter-Zone format was introduced, it has been the Central Zone that has come out on top, with Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol and Altyn Asyr advancing past the semi-finals and then winning the Inter-Zone Final.
However, both sides lost out in the final as the competition’s dominant team, Air Force Club of Iraq, picked up their second and third titles to claim an unprecedented three AFC Cups in a row.
3. Goals Galore
While Hanoi are the tournament’s leading scorers on 28 goals, the Vietnamese side have played more games than the other teams to have reached this stage.
Indeed, when breaking things down to goals per game, both Hanoi and 17-goal 4.25 have scored an average of 2.8 goals per match. Altyn Asyr, meanwhile, have netted just seven times in their six games so far.
4. Golden Boot Race
Of the players still involved in the 2019 AFC Cup, Hanoi’s Pape Omar Faye, on nine goals, leads the chase to catch 10-goal Bienvenido Maranon of Ceres Negros, who have already been eliminated.
But 4.25’s Kim Yu-song, on six goals, is scoring at a rate of a goal a game and has amassed an incredible 21 goals in the past three editions of the AFC Cup.
5. Creating History
When Masih Saighani scored deep into stoppage time to claim a 1-0 victory over India’s Minerva Punjab, he not only secured a place in the next round but also created a piece of history for Bangladesh.
Muktijoddha Sangsad appeared in the inaugural AFC Cup in 2004 and the country had been represented in seven editions prior to 2019, but never before had a Bangladeshi side advanced to the knockout rounds.
6. Defensive Solidarity
Four clean sheets in six games and just two goals conceded mean 4.25 are heading into the Inter-Zone Semi-finals with the best defensive record, while Altyn Asyr are the only unbeaten team of the quartet.
No side has managed to breach the 4.25 defence in Pyongyang, meanwhile, so Abahani will be desperate for a positive result in Dhaka in the first leg on Wednesday.
7. Record Breakers
Hanoi produced a memorable opening game to their campaign when a comprehensive 10-0 victory over Cambodia’s Naga World was the biggest winning margin ever recorded in the AFC Cup.
The record for the highest winning margin in the knockout rounds, meanwhile, is held by 4.25, who produced a stunning 9-1 win over Singapore’s Home United in the second leg of the Inter-Zone Semi-finals last year to advance 11-1 on aggregate.
8. National Pride
While all four teams are aiming to become the first-ever AFC Cup champions from their respective countries, both 4.25 and Abahani are targeting a first success for their region.
In 2011, Uzbekistan’s Nasaf became the first and, to date, only side from Central Asia to lift the trophy, while Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim did likewise for ASEAN in 2015.
9. ASEAN's Winless Run
Hanoi will be looking to become the first ASEAN side to win a game at the Inter-Zone Semi-final stage, with the region’s record currently reading: played four, lost three, drawn one.
Ceres Negros of the Philippines drew one and lost one against Istiklol in 2017 before Singapore’s Home United suffered back-to-back defeats against 4.25 last year.
10. New Additions
And finally, Bangladesh and Vietnam will become the seventh and eighth countries to be represented in the Inter-Zone Semi-finals when Abahani and Hanoi take to the field next week.
India, the Philippines, Singapore and Tajikistan, as well as DPR Korea and Turkmenistan, make up the other six nations to have appeared at this stage of the competition.
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