AFC Cup: India a historic & proud member of the competition

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India’s proud tradition will continue in the AFC Cup. ATK Mohun Bagan will face champions FC Nasaf in the Inter-Zone semi-final on Wednesday.

The AFC Cup was instituted in 2004. Only two countries have sent representatives at every edition since India and Lebanon. No side from the South Asian nation has claimed the trophy. However, they have come within touching distance.

Now, ATK Mohun Bagan are set to become the latest Indian team to compete for the title.

AFC Cup historical for India

West Asian sides commanded the AFC Cup from its inaugural edition from 2004 up to 2010. Clubs from India however made a constant appearance but carved out little inroads in the early years. Goa side Dempo made its debut in 2005. It was in 2008 that Dempo made history by reaching the semi-finals with big wins.

In 2013, Sunil Chhetri made his AFC Cup debut. Playing for Churchill Brothers at the time, he netted scored twice. Unfortunately, they were eliminated in the group stages. On the bright side, East Bengal showed marked improvement. They got past the group stages and played their way through the tournament. 

This sparking run ended in the semi-finals versus Kuwait SC. 50,000 spectators occupied the Salt Lake Stadium for the second leg. It was the second-highest attendance than at an AFC Cup match and stays in the top five to date.

Bengaluru FC made their introduction in 2015. Ever since they have been India’s best-performing club in the AFC Cup. With Ashley Westwood at the helm and Chhetri within their ranks, they reached the last 16. Bengaluru went on to go toe-to-toe with the finest teams in the competition. History was made in 2016 when they became the first Indian side to reach the final.

In 2017, a new zonal format was launched. Both Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru represented India in the South Zone. The pair shared a win each against one another in the group stage. But it was Bangalore who went on to top the standings courtesy of a Chhetri goal.

History was created once more in 2019. Champions of two separate leagues stepped up for India. I-League winners Minerva Punjab and ISL title holders Chennaiyin were placed into Group E. Both sets of games between the pair concluded in draws and each team lost just a single game.

However, it was not enough as both teams exited. For the first time since 2012, the knockout rounds saw no Indian presence. Minerva’s Thoiba Singh created history by establishing himself as AFC Cup’s youngest scorer of all time.

The 2020 AFC Cup had to be called off due to Covid-19. However, the AFC Cup 2021 returns with Bengaluru and ATK Mohun Bagan representing India. ATK won the domestic derby 2-0. They took four points from their following two games and booked a spot in the Inter-Zone Semi-finals.

They are to play 2011 winners FC Nasaf in Karshi. The side from Kolkata will be aware that there might have been few tougher opponents. The Uzbeks boast their fair share of AFC Champions League experience.

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