The AFC Cup Final: 2004-2006
Kuala Lumpur: The 2019 AFC Cup final sees Lebanon’s Al Ahed travel to Pyongyang to face DPR Korea’s 4.25 SC in three weeks’ time with a new name and country guaranteed to be etched on to the trophy.
The finale will bring a close to the 16th edition of a competition that in recent times has been dominated by three-time champions Air Force Club of Iraq.
As part of the-AFC.com’s build-up to the showpiece event, we begin our five-part series looking back at the tournament final's history, starting with its inaugural year in 2004.
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2004 – Syria On Top
Eighteen teams from 11 nations, from Lebanon in the west to Hong Kong in the east, were placed into five groups with the table-toppers and three best-placed runners-up advancing to the quarter-finals, before Syrian duo Al Jaish and Al Wahda eventually progressed to the final.
Abbasiyyin Stadium in Damascus played host to both legs of the all-Syria affair and served up a classic in the first meeting, when Amer Al Abtah’s second-half penalty for ‘away’ side Al Jaish ultimately proved decisive in a 3-2 victory.
Al Wahda needed to score at least twice in the return fixture and Nabil Al Shahmeh’s goal 18 minutes from time set up a gripping finale, but Al Jaish were able to hold on to claim an away goals win to become the first-ever AFC Cup champions.
Al Jaish’s Feras Esmaeel wasn’t on the scoresheet until the second leg of the quarter-finals against India’s East Bengal, but the midfielder would prove inspirational in his side’s title success.
A brace in the 4-0 win over Home United in the first leg of the semi-finals all but secured a place in the final, where Esmaeel added his most crucial goal in the 3-2 victory against Al Wahda.
Did You Know?
On February 10, 2004, Nigerian striker Duke Effiong scored the first-ever AFC Cup goal, and hat-trick, as Malaysian side Negeri Sembilan FA eased past Island FC from the Maldives 6-0.
However, they were to be his only goals of the campaign and Negeri ultimately fell at the first hurdle after picking up just two wins.
2005 – Jordanians Arrive In Style
The same format continued a year later and, while just nine countries were involved on this occasion, Al Faisaly and Al Hussein became the first teams to represent Jordan in the AFC Cup, with both advancing to the last eight.
While Al Hussein fell in the quarter-finals, Al Faisaly made it all the way to the final, where the Amman side would meet Lebanon’s Nejmeh SC as the neighbours faced off for the right to be crowned kings of Asia.
Khaled Saad's goal was the difference in a 1-0 first-leg win at Amman International Stadium, before he added two more in Beirut as a 3-2 victory saw Al Faisaly lift the trophy 4-2 on aggregate.
Three goals in the final makes it hard to look any further than Khaled Saad as he scored his only goals of the campaign when it mattered most.
The midfielder would go on to enjoy league title success with Nejmeh several years later during a season in Lebanon before ultimately finishing his career with Oman’s Fanja SC.
Did You Know?
A young Mohammed Ghaddar announced his arrival on the Continental scene, scoring two at home and one away against Hong Kong’s Sun Hei in the semi-final to help seal a place in the final.
Just 21 at the time, the forward also scored in both the group stage and quarter-finals before making his international debut and scoring in a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia early the following year.
2006 – Al Faisaly Go Back-To-Back
Bahrain joined the party in 2006 as Al Muharraq became the first team from the West Asian nation to appear in the competition, which had expanded to six groups, and they would make it all the way to the final.
Standing in their way were the holders, who had scraped into the main event after defeating city rivals Al Wehdat, and three second-half goals – two from Abdelhadi Al Maharmeh – secured a comfortable 3-0 first-leg win.
But Al Muharraq almost pulled off an incredible comeback, going 4-1 up in just over an hour in Riffa to leave them needing just one goal to claim glory. It was not to be, however, as Siraj Al Tall struck in stoppage time to seal a 5-4 aggregate win and successive titles for Al Faisaly.
Brazilian Rico, who broke AFC Cup scoring records in years to come, was crucial in his side’s advance to the final, with a pair of goals away at Oman’s Al Nasr in the last eight helping Al Muharraq reach the semi-finals.
The striker added two more in the semi-final win over Nejmeh and another in the final as the Bahraini team came so close to overhauling a three-goal deficit.
Did You Know?
The 2006 campaign witnessed the competition’s first-ever penalty shootout after Al Faisaly and Sun Hei couldn't be separated in the quarter-finals.
After a 2-2 aggregate draw, it was the Jordanian team who progressed by running out 5-4 winners from the spot at Hong Kong Stadium in what was the closest they came to exiting en route to the final.
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