AFC Cup: Magic Moments
Kuala Lumpur: After bringing you three of the AFC Cup’s most memorable moments last week, the-AFC.com has selected another trio for fans of Asian football to look back upon as you #StayAtHome and #BreakTheChain.
From a history-making night in Basra to a Chhetri-inspired Bengaluru and Filipino joy in Bacolod City, this week's magic moments are sure to bring back happy – or perhaps sad – memories.
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Air Force Club Soar in Iraq
Between 2016 and 2018, Iraq’s Air Force Club were the AFC Cup’s dominant team, so much so that in the three-year period they participated in three tournaments and won them all. Syria’s Al Wahda (twice) remain the only side to have ever beaten them in the competition.
But due to security issues in their homeland, Air Force Club played just one game inside Iraq in their first two years in the AFC Cup, meaning their supporters had been deprived of seeing arguably the best side the competition has ever seen.
That all changed in 2018 as the improved situation in Iraq saw regular Continental football return to the country, and the city of Karbala hosted two of the side’s group stage games.
With West Asia scheduled to stage the final that year, Air Force Club had an even greater incentive to continue their run as they overcame both Lebanon’s Al Ahed and Jordan’s Al Jazeera in the knockout rounds.
That meant a final against Turkmenistan’s Altyn Asyr in the southern city of Basra, where almost 25,000 turned out in the hope that Air Force Club could win an unprecedented third title in a row.
And they were not disappointed as club legend Hammadi Ahmed and Ibrahim Bayesh got on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win to see Air Force Club finally lift the trophy in front of home support in what remains their last appearance in the competition.
Chhetri Ousts Holders
While Johor Darul Ta’zim’s AFC Cup victory in 2015 was a magical moment in itself, we look back to the following year when, as holders, they fell to a Sunil Chhetri-inspired Bengaluru FC.
Bengaluru reached the knockout rounds as debutants in 2015 and the Karnataka State side advanced again in 2016, before defeating Kitchee SC and Tampines Rovers to line up a semi-final clash against JDT, who they had twice lost to in the group stage.
The defending champions were clear favourites, but a 1-1 first-leg draw in southern Malaysia gave Albert Roca’s side hope ahead of the return meeting at Sree Kanteerava Stadium as they set their eyes on becoming the first Indian side to reach the final.
The game began badly with Safiq Rahim putting JDT in front in the 11th minute, but Chhetri sent the more than 21,000 in attendance into raptures when he headed home just before half-time.
Better was to come after the interval as the Bengaluru captain brought the crowd to their feet once more with a stunning strike from 25 yards that flew into the top corner.
With 15 minutes to play, Spanish defender Juanan put the result beyond doubt by heading in Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s free-kick to round off a 4-2 aggregate win and one of the most memorable nights in Bengaluru’s history.
Ceres Crowned ASEAN Kings
After edging into the newly introduced ASEAN Zonal semi-finals in 2017, courtesy of a better head-to-head record against Hanoi FC in the group stage, Ceres Negros faced the daunting prospect of regional powerhouse JDT.
The Filipino side lost the first leg 3-2 in Johor Bahru and, at 1-1 in the return meeting in Bacolod City, were heading out until Spaniard Fernando’s penalty in the third minute of added time sparked joyous scenes as Ceres advanced in dramatic style.
Home United awaited in the ASEAN Zonal final and, once more, Ceres suffered a first-leg loss, going down 2-1 in Singapore to leave themselves with plenty to do in the return meeting at Pana-ad Park and Football Stadium.
OJ Porteria put the hosts in front in the second minute before Fernando skied a penalty to leave the game on a knife edge. However, as half-time approached, Manny Ott gave Ceres breathing space with a delightful free-kick into the top corner.
The visitors struck the woodwork in a tense second half as they desperately sought an equaliser but Ceres held out to be crowned ASEAN Zonal Champions, progress to the Inter-Zone semi-finals and make it a Singapore National Day to forget for Home United.
“After the match, the players were crying on the pitch because we left it all out there,” said midfielder Stephan Schrock. “We put in the performance of our life in this final. We deserve to make history for the club, the country and Southeast Asia."
Now you've read up on the latest three AFC Cup Magic Moments, tell us which one you enjoyed most (Poll ends at 1800 (UTC +8) on April 4).
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