Iraq’s ‘Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya’ or Air Force Club as they’re more popularly known, claimed their second AFC Cup title in a row after defeating Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol 1-0 in the final. Istiklol had beaten Bengaluru FC 3-2 on aggregate in the Inter-Zonal final, en route to the grand finale.

Air Force Club’s defence had been rock solid throughout the tournament, having kept six clean sheets in 10 games and conceding just five goals. Istiklol, meanwhile, had scored 23 times prior to Saturday’s encounter, meaning the tie was billed as a classic attack versus defence.

Manuchehr Dzhalilov, who had seven goals to his name, had been the Tajik side’s biggest threat in the 2017 campaign. Three times the striker had a sight of goal on Saturday, but he fired well over from the penalty spot once and saw his other two shots blocked by the visitors’ stubborn defensive line.

Further up the pitch, Khaled Mbayed was a rock in the Air Force Club midfield, with his 15 duels won almost double the number of any Istiklol player. Mbayad’s four successful tackles was also more than anyone on the pitch, as the classic 4-4-2 formation provided plenty of resistance.

In the end, for the first time in the tournament, Istiklol were unable to register a single shot on target and drew their only blank of the campaign. They have now played Iraqi opposition six times in three seasons and have not scored a single goal in these games.

By the time Emad Mohsin rocketed the ball into the back of the net midway through the second half, there only looked like one winner, before Hammadi Ahmed really should have made the winning margin wider but spurned two late opportunities, including a missed penalty.

“We were not so good in the first half, but after the break we regrouped and put in a much better performance. We missed a penalty kick but eventually scored the all-important goal,” commented Mohsin on his team’s performance on the night.

“It is a historic achievement for us and for Iraqi football. I am delighted that we were able to bring joy to our fans back in Iraq.”

With this, Istiklol have now lost two of the last three AFC Cup finals.

(With inputs from