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Air Force, Bengaluru dispute AFC Cup title

Bengaluru tripped Kaya's groupmate Kitchee and Ceres' groupmate Tampines before stunning JDT to earn a spot in the AFC Cup final. PTI (file photo)
By Dugout Philippines

DOHA--History will be made on Sunday (Philippine Time) in the 2016 AFC Cup final between Air Force Club and JSW Bengaluru FC as a club from Iraq or India is set to win an Asian club title for the first time.

Air Force Club will fancy their chances though of finally landing the country’s first-ever continental club title after an impressive debut campaign in the AFC Cup.

The Baghdad club, who are better known by their Arabic name Al Quwa Al Jawiya, may lack experience in the competition but they topped their group in the opening round before seeing off Al Wihdat of Jordan in the round of 16 and former winners Al Jaish of Syria in the quarterfinals.

Held 1-1 by Al Ahed of Lebanon in the first leg of the semifinals, they appeared to be headed out when they trailed 2-1 in the return game in Beirut.

However, Al Ahed defender Nour Mansour headed into his own net with 20 minutes left to put Air Force Club ahead on away goals before Bashar Resan struck six minutes later to seal the Iraqi side’s place in the final.

Standing in their way in the final at Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium are Bengaluru, who overcame the odds to see off defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia in the last four to become the first-ever Indian club to reach an Asian club final.

Formed just three years ago, Bengaluru reached the last 16 of the AFC Cup in 2015 but they made a bad start to this year’s tournament, losing their first two group games before winning three of their next four to advance to the knockout rounds.

After eliminating Hong Kong side Kitchee in the round of 16 and Singapore’s Tampines Rovers in the quarterfinals, they faced a formidable JDT, who beat the Indian club twice during the group stage and reached the semi-finals with an unbeaten record.

However, Bengaluru stunned the Malaysian champions by holding them to a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Johor Bahru with a spectacular long-range equalizer by Eugeneson Lyngdoh before coming from a goal down in the return game in India to win 3-1 with captain Sunil Chhetri scoring twice before Juanan sealed a memorable victory for the I-League club.

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