Kuala Lumpur: With the 2020 AFC Cup currently on hiatus, we look back at the competition’s rich history by picking out three iconic moments in the first of the-AFC.com’s ‘Magic Moments’ series.
From ending years of hurt to record-breaking crowds and dramatic late qualification, our inaugural selection features a trio of matches that live long in the memory.
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Qadsia finally taste glory
When the final between Qadsia SC and Arbil went to penalties in 2014, the former could have been forgiven for thinking fate was against them.
Four years earlier, in front of a then record crowd of more than 58,000 in Kuwait City, Qadsia had suffered a penalty shootout defeat to Syria’s Al Ittihad in the final to miss out on the trophy in agonising fashion.
A year later it was shootout heartbreak once more as Kuwait SC beat them from the spot in the last 16, before history repeated itself in 2012 as the same opponents eliminated them at the same stage, incredibly, on penalties.
In 2013, Qadsia advanced to a second final where they would meet, you’ve guessed it, their domestic rivals. Spared the anguish of more spot-kick misery, they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat as Kuwait SC won their third title in four years.
But with their nemesis ousted in 2014, Qadsia progressed to a final against Iraq’s Arbil in Dubai. Nothing could separate the sides in 120 minutes of action, meaning the Kuwaiti side faced a fourth penalty shootout in five years.
Dhari Said missed Qadsia’s second penalty to ramp up the pressure but this time they would not be denied. Goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi proved the hero, saving from Ali Faez to allow Swiss striker Danijel Subotic the chance to fire home the winning penalty and end years of AFC Cup hurt.
Simic delights record crowd
The attendance at the 2010 final remained a tournament record for eight years until Persija Jakarta came onto the Continental scene in 2018.
With the roar of the passionate ‘Jakmania’ at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Persija had seen off Singapore’s Tampines Rovers and Vietnam’s Song Lam Nghe An in front of crowds of 49,000 and 46,000 respectively.
Next up came 2015 winners Johor Darul Ta’zim and, with qualification from Group H now a real possibility, an AFC Cup record 60,157 turned out to watch Indonesia and Malaysia – the greatest of rivals – go head to head.
Marko Simic’s diving header gave the hosts an eighth-minute lead before the Croatian raised the roof off the stadium by thumping home another header four minutes later.
The clock hadn’t even hit the 20-minute mark by the time Simic volleyed in his hat-trick and Persija were cruising. It was party mode at Gelora and the Croat wrapped up one of the most memorable nights in Persija’s history with a late penalty to make it 4-0.
Persija went on to qualify for the ASEAN Zonal semi-finals, where they again broke the attendance record (62,198), but the night against JDT was not to be bettered as the Indonesian giants lost 3-1 against Home United to exit 6-3 on aggregate.
Abahani’s stoppage-time joy
Bangladeshi teams featured in the first three AFC Cups and then again between 2015 to 2018, but had never made it out of the group stage in seven attempts.
Abahani Limited Dhaka picked up four points in both 2017 and 2018, with India’s Bengaluru FC dominating the South Zone, and little was expected of the Bangladesh champions ahead of the 2019 campaign.
However, with Bengaluru failing to qualify, Abahani began the group stage – alongside Indian duo Chennaiyin FC and Minerva Punjab, as well as Nepal’s Mahang Marshyangdi Club – as the only side with Continental experience.
Four points from their first three games left them off the pace but a come-from-behind 3-2 Matchday Four win over Chennaiyin brought them right back in it, before the Dhaka side eased past Manang 5-0 to set up a gripping climax.
It all came down to the last game against Minerva in Guwahati, with Abahani needing to equal Chennaiyin’s result to advance. But with Chennaiyin 3-2 up against Manang and Abahani scoreless as the clock ticked into stoppage time, the dream appeared to be over.
Step forward Afghan international Masih Saighani.
A deep corner from Nabib Jibon was headed back across goal by Kervens Belfort and Saighani headed in from close range to spark joyous scenes as Abahani booked their ticket to the Inter-Zone semi-finals.
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