West Asia Asia

Al-Muharraq Clinch Second AFC Cup Title

Bahrain’s Al-Muharraq were crowned the newest champions of the AFC Cup after they had beaten Uzbekistan’s Nasaf Qarshi 3-0 in Friday night’s final. Goals from Mahmoud Al-Mahdi, Hussain Jameel Shamsan, and Flavio Carioca sent Al-Muharraq to their second AFC Cup title in history while at the same time ensuring the dominance of West Asian sides in Asia’s second-tier club competition.

It was the battle between former winners of the AFC Cup at the Sheikh Ali bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa Stadium in Arad, Bahrain on Friday night, as 2008 winners Al-Muharraq, representing West Asia, host 2011 winners Nasaf of Central Asia.

Al-Muharraq had successively eliminated two other former AFC Cup winners in the form of defending champions Al-Ahed of Lebanon and a Kuwait SC side boasting the likes of former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel and former Sydney FC defender Ryan McGowan. Meanwhile, Nasaf’s path to the final saw them destroy India’s ATK Mohun Bagan 6-0 before edging out Hong Kong’s Lee Man FC 3-2 after extra time.

The hosts started the match brightly, taking the lead in the 3rd minute after Jordanian Al-Mahdi caught Nasaf goalie Umijon Ergashev off-guard with a stunning curler from outside the area.

Immediately after going behind Nasaf tried their best to retaliate through Sherzod Nasrullaev and Serbian import Marko Stanojevic, only for the former’s scorpion kick missing the target and the latter’s attempt being blocked by Al-Muharraq’s Waleed Al-Hayam.

The Dragons of Nasaf kept on pressing and threatening in the second half, with Al-Muharraq’s goal, safeguarded by veteran goalkeeper Sayed Jaffer, being bombarded constantly by the likes of Oybek Borosov, Sukhrob Nurullaev, Stanojevic, and Dilshod Saitov.

Nasaf brought on former Wellington Phoenix and Port FC attacker Andrija Kaludjerovic to push for an equalizer in the 73rd minute, however, the Uzbeks went further behind just a minute afterward.

Al-Muharraq substitute Jameel was fed the ball by Noor Al-Rawabdeh, being given far too much space as he dashed straight into the Nasaf defense and slotted home the hosts’ second goal of the night past Ergashev.

The Bahrainis’ second AFC Cup title was confirmed in 80th minute, with Brazilian Carioca chipping Ergashev for Al-Muharraq’s third, effectively killing the game off.

By winning the 2021 AFC Cup, Al-Muharraq, who had finished 4th in the 2020/21 Bahraini Premier League season below champions Al-Riffa, runners-up East Riffa, and bronze medalists Manama Club, were given a ticket to the 2022 AFC Champions League qualifying play-offs, making their debut in Asia’s premier club competition in the process.

Al-Muharraq’s victory also confirmed West Asia’s stranglehold over the AFC Cup trophy. Since the competition’s inception in 2004, only two teams from outside West Asia have lifted the AFC Cup – Nasaf in 2011 and Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim, representing ASEAN, in 2015.