Johor Darul Ta'zim crowned AFC Cup champions

Dushanbe: Argentinian midfielder Leandro Velazquez scored the only goal of the game as Johor Darul Ta’zim became the first Malaysian club to claim a continental title with a 1-0 win over Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol in the final of the AFC Cup on Saturday afternoon.

Velazquez scored in the 23rd minute with a low strike to secure the trophy for the Malaysian side, who had become the first club from their nation to appear in a continental club final since Selangor were losing finalists in the inaugural Asian Club Championship final in 1967.

Played out in front of a packed Republican Central Stadium in the Tajikistan capital, Istiklol had the backing of the majority of the crowd and it was the home side who settled quickest and who had the better of the opening exchanges.

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Manuchehr Dzhalilov went closest to claiming the game’s first goal when his shot slipped under goalkeeper Farizal Marlias, only for Aidil Zafuan to hack the ball to safety while at the other Velazquez forced Istiklol goalkeeper Nikola Stosic into action soon after.

Dzhalilov was again involved for Istiklol when his attempt was parried clear, and just minutes later the home side thought they had taken the lead when Khurshed Mahmudov’s effort crossed the goal line only for play to be called back for an earlier infringement.

Manuel Bleda then volleyed over the bar as Istiklol continued to swarm forward but, in the 23rd minute, the Malaysian side took the lead against the run of play.

The Tajik club’s defence failed to clear Safiq Rahim’s corner convincingly and Velazquez strode into the penalty area before sliding a low shot under Stosic and into the bottom corner.

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Istiklol thought they had pulled level six minutes into the second half when Dzhalilov put the ball in the back of the net with a shot on the turn, but his effort was ruled out for offside.

As time ran out, the Tajik side cranked up the pressure. With 17 minutes remaining, Dzhalilov saw his attempt acrobatically tipped over the bar by Marlias while, seconds later, Bleda almost managed to bundle the ball over the line.

Istiklol continued to press with both Dzhakhongir Dzhalilov and Manuchehr Dzhalilov both hitting the side netting with shots from inside the penalty area but, despite their increasing desperation, Istiklol were unable to find a way through and Johor DT held on to claim a win that had their small band of travelling fans celebrating in style.

Photo: WSG