The AFC Cup Final: 2013-2015
Kuala Lumpur: West Asian triumphs have dominated AFC Cup history over the years, with only Uzbekistan's Nasaf taking the trophy outside the region in the years between 2004 and 2014.
So,as the-AFC.com reviews the finals between 2013 and 2015, it is hardly surprising we see the first three-time champion comes from the West. However, in the latest look back at the showpiece event, a new force from Southeast Asia also arrives on the Continental scene.
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2013 – Kuwait SC claim third title
For the first time in the competition’s history, clubs from Tajikistan were involved the group stage, with FC Regar-Tadaz and FC Ravshan representing the Central Asian region, although both exited at the group stage having failed to pick up a win.
And there were familiar faces in the final as holders Kuwait SC took on domestic rivals Qadsia SC, with the defending champions aiming for an unprecedented third title and their countrymen looking to make up for the disappointment of losing the 2010 showpiece event.
The game at Al Sadaqua Walsalam Stadium marked the first same-country final since an all-Jordanian affair in 2007 and, after a goalless first half in which Qadsia struck the woodwork, Brazilian Rogerinho rifled Kuwait in front from distance with arguably the finest goal ever scored in an AFC Cup final.
Just after the hour, the holders doubled their advantage as Rogerinho teed up Issam Jemaa for the Tunisian’s tournament-leading 16th goal of the campaign.
Qadsia pushed to get back into the match but Kuwait held out to become the first side to retain the trophy since Al Faisaly in 2006 and the first team to ever be crowned three-time AFC Cup winners.
Rogerinho was inspirational in his side’s success but it’s hard to look beyond Issam Jemaa, whose 16 goals were just three behind Rico’s record 19-goal haul for Bahrain’s Al Muharraq in 2008 and remain joint second highest for a single campaign.
As well as his goal in the final, the striker also bagged a brace in the semi-final first leg against India’s East Bengal and scored seven goals over two games against the Maldives’ New Radiant SC in the quarter-finals.
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While Jemaa’s seven goals against the New Radiant grabbed headlines, the Maldivian club’s Ali Ashfaq went even better than that in the group stage.
The forward chalked up five goals in a 7-0 Matchday Two away victory over Indonesia’s Persibo Bojonegoro before scoring a hat-trick when the sides met again in Male on Matchday Six.
2014 – Kuwaitis remain on top
For the first time clubs from Kyrgyz Republic and Palestine took part in the AFC Cup with the two representative teams facing off in the play-offs as Alay Osh defeated Shabab Al Dhahiriya to reach the group stage.
Following back-to-back AFC Cup titles for Kuwait SC in 2012 and 2013, the two sides they defeated in those finals, Iraq's Erbil and Kuwait's Qadsia SC, found themselves face to face in the 2014 AFC Cup final.
A closely fought but goalless affair meant that, after 120 minutes, the 2014 AFC Cup final was to be decided from the spot. Star men Bader Al Mutawa and Amjed Radhi delivered from the first pair of penalties before Erbil's Jalal Hassan saved from substitute Dhari Said.
Hawar Mohamed’s effort cannoned off the bar to wipe out Erbil's advantage before Fahd Al Ansari and Barzan Sherzad exchanged goals. Khalid El Ebrahim scored and Qadsia goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi saved from Ali Faez to allow Swiss forward Danijel Subotic to strike the winner as Qadsia made up for disappointments in 2010 and 2013 to lift the AFC Cup for the first time.
The legendary Bader Al Mutawa has been one-club man at Qadsia SC. After AFC Cup final heartbreak in 2010 and 2013, the Kuwaiti icon was finally rewarded for his loyal service and consistently high standards with Continental glory.
Al Mutawa scored in every round of the knockout stage until the final and following the stalemate it was no surprise that he took and converted Qadsia's first penalty in the resulting shootout.
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For the first time in the competition’s 11-year history, the showpiece event took place at a neutral ground, Dubai’s Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium.
2015 – The Rise of ASEAN
The 11 AFC Cup finals that had preceded the 2015 edition had seen 10 all West Asia affairs and just one team from outside the region – Uzbekistan’s Nasaf in 2011 – compete in the showpiece event.
But 2015 proved a groundbreaking year for the competition as Malaysian powerhouse Johor Darul Ta’zim and Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol were the two sides to advance to the final as Southeast Asia took on Central Asia for the right to be crowned Continental champions.
Pamir Stadium in Dushanbe was packed to the rafters for the final but Argentine midfielder Leandro Velazquez volleyed home from 16 yards midway through the first half to give JDT the lead.
Istiklol pushed hard for the equaliser after the restart and Dhzalilov had a goal ruled out for offside but Johor held out to be crowned Malaysia’s inaugural Continental champions following their hard-fought 1-0 win.
Strikers Daniel McBreen and Rise Naumov of South China SC and Ayeyawady United respectively were the top scorers in the 2015 edition, but neither took part in the competition past the Round of 16, while JDT captain Safiq Rahim inspired his side all the way to the title.
The midfielder was named tournament MVP for his efforts and his skillful play and leadership on the field was a vital part of the Malaysian club's history-making campaign.
Did You Know?
Eleven teams made their debuts at the 2015 edition of the AFC Cup. These included clubs from Philippines, Laos, India, Singapore, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, Palestine, Jordan, Indonesia and Myanmar.
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