The AFC Cup Final: 2007-2009
Kuala Lumpur: With two-and-a-half weeks remaining until the 2019 AFC Cup Final kicks off between Lebanese side Al Ahed and 4.25 SC of DPR Korea, we recall when sides from Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait had their moment in the sun.
Having begun our five-part series last week, The-AFC.com now presents the second entry on the history of the AFC Cup Finals and remembers the 2007, 2008 and 2009 editions of the Continental tournament.
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2007 – Three-peat Denied
The fourth edition of the AFC Cup involved 24 teams from 13 Member Associations in six groups of four with the table-toppers and two best runners-up, one from West Asia Groups A, B and C and one from East Asia Groups D, E and F qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Defending champions Al Faisaly of Jordan were on track for a third consecutive title and they would face off with countrymen Shabab Al Ordon in the 2007 final.
Amman International Stadium in the Jordanian capital was the setting for the clash of the compatriots and it was a tight affair in the first meeting, with Odai Al Saify's goal for Shabab Al Ordon separating the two sides after 90 minutes.
Al Faisaly quickly restored parity in the return meeting through Haitham Al Shboul's 13th-minute opener, but just before half-time Mustafa Shehdeh put Shabab Al Ordon ahead again on aggregate.
The goal proved to be the match-winner as neither side made headway after the interval and, despite Al Faisaly's dreams of ending with a historic trio of titles, Jordan had its third AFC Cup champion in a row.
Shabab Al Ordon's Odai Al Saify proved to be the man for the big occasions at the 2007 AFC Cup. The attacking midfielder's goals ensured important Group Stage wins over Lebanon's Nejmeh and Oman's Muscat Club, but it was the knockout stage where he really rose to the fore.
The Jordan international scored in every round of the knockout stage with three of his five tournament-leading goals coming in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and, most importantly, the final.
Did You Know?
Look away now New Radiant and Pahang FA fans but the 2007 tournament was the first to see a team lose all six of their Group Stage games. And not only was it just one side with that record, but two, as both the Maldivian and Malaysian clubs failed to take a single point from their Group E and F campaigns respectively.
2008 – Incredible Rico
In 2008, the tournament reduced its number by four with just 20 teams from 10 countries involved on this occasion as Thailand, Vietnam and Turkmenistan did not participate.
The final saw a Bahrain club, Al Muharraq, return to the tournament's climax for a second time after their defeat in the 2006 showpiece to face-off against Lebanon's Safa SC.
Both Al Muharrraq and Safa had dominated sides on their way to the final with Al Muharraq's 7-1 aggregate win over Kedah and Safa's 7-0 defeat of Perak FA particularly noteworthy, and, as such, it was no surprise that the final was a free-scoring affair.
In the first leg in Manama, the bulk of the goals went one-way as Al Muharraq fired five past Safa before they clawed a consolation back through Hussein Tahan.
The return leg in Beirut went even further. In a rollercoaster tie, the sides shared nine goals as Al Muharraq eventually edged it 5-4 on the night and 10-5 on aggregate to take the AFC Cup back to Bahrain.
The sensational scoring feats of Al Muharraq's Brazilian forward Rico mean there is only one choice for the player in the limelight. A staggering 19 goals from 12 matches remains as the all-time best haul from a single AFC Cup tournament and one unlikely to be bettered.
The striker had nine after the Group Stage, added four in the quarter-finals and semis, before saving his best for last with a hat-trick in each leg of the final.
Did You Know?
Rico's scoring feats at the 2008 AFC Cup saw him earn the title of World's Best Top Scorer by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. Previous winners at that time included the likes of Thierry Henry, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Jurgen Klinsmann.
2009 – A New Era
After changes in the format of the AFC Champions League, the AFC Cup followed suit as it significantly expanded in participating teams (32) and introduced a Round of 16 for the first time. In the tournament's new era it was Kuwait SC and Syria's Al Karamah, runners-up at the 2006 AFC Champions League, who met in the final.
For the first time, the final was to be played in a one-off format with the match held at Kuwait SC Stadium. And in front of over 17,000 fans it turned out to be worthy, nerve-wracking finale.
Midfielder Hussain Hakem opened the scoring for the hosts after the quarter hour mark but Alaa Al Shbli found an equaliser for the Syrians with eight minutes remaining. But deep into stoppage time Omani striker Ismail Al Ajmi netted the winner to cue jubilant scenes on the pitch and in the stands.
Ismail Al Ajimi only joined Kuwait SC's AFC Cup campaign in the knockout stage but his contributions to their maiden Continental title are enough to ensure his name goes down in the club's history.
The Oman international scored a vital second in the semi-final first leg against South China SC, before repeating the exploits in the return meeting in front of a sold-out Hong Kong Stadium. The striker saved the best for last, however, a stoppage-time strike to decide the AFC Cup's first-ever single-legged final.
Did You Know?
Four players tied for the Top Scorer award with Robert Akaruye of Busaiteen, Al Karamah's Mohamad Hamwi, Kuwait SC striker Jehad Al Hussain and Binh Duong's Huynh Kesley Alvest all scoring eight goals.
Interestingly, of the quartet, only Hamwi scored after the Round of 16, netting a hat-trick in the second leg of the semi-final.
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