AFC Cup Final Flashback: Al Wahda v Al Jaish (2004)
Kuala Lumpur: Defending AFC Cup champions Air Force Club of Iraq will face off against Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol in the final of the 2017 edition in a little under two weeks’ time.
With excitement building ahead of the 14th final, the-AFC.com begins its series of looking back at the 13 that have gone before it, starting with the inaugural showpiece in 2004 between Syrian teams Al Wahda and Al Jaish.
A New Beginning
The inauguration of the AFC Cup coincided with the second edition of the AFC Champions League as Asian football embarked on an exciting new era in the early years of the millennium.
In February 2004, the group stage of the recently launched AFC Cup kicked off as 18 sides from 11 nations, from Lebanon in the West to Singapore in the East, made up the five groups.
Nine months later the final would pit two Syrian sides against each other as Damascus clubs Al Wahda and Al Jaish faced off over two legs.
How They Got There: The Group Stage
Al Wahda began their campaign in Group B, where they were paired with Oman’s Dhofar and Mahindra United of India.
The Damascus side began with back-to-back draws against Dhofar and Mahindra, before a 5-1 victory over the Indian team moved them to the top of the standings and a 2-0 win against the Omanis confirmed their place in the knockout round.
City rivals Al Jaish, meanwhile, started with a scoreless draw against Lebanon’s Olympic Beirut in Group C before a 6-0 victory over Turkmenistan’s Nebitci Balkanabat.
A 2-0 win over Beirut booked their passage to the last eight while a 0-0 draw against the Turkmen team ensured Al Jaish remained unbeaten after four games.
The Knockout Rounds
Next up for Al Wahda were Lebanon’s Nejmeh in the quarter-finals and a last-minute Maher Al Sayed goal secured a 2-1 first-leg win, before the Syrian side advanced on away goals following a 3-2 defeat in Lebanon in the second leg.
Al Jaish played out a scoreless draw with East Bengal Club in Kolkata but were comfortable 3-0 winners in the reverse fixture as a semi-final place was assured.
Both sides faced Singaporean opposition in the last four, with Al Wahda up against Geylang United and Al Jaish tasked with Home United.
Al Wahda drew 1-1 in the first leg in Damascus thanks to Muhammad Jaafar’s late equaliser, before making the long trip east and returning victorious after Moussa Traore’s early goal ensured a 2-1 aggregate win.
A 4-0 home victory for Al Jaish meant they travelled to Singapore with a comfortable lead, and a 2-1 away win, secured with Zyad Chaabo’s stoppage-time goal, wrapped up a 6-1 aggregate scoreline to mean the inaugural AFC Cup final would be an all-Syrian affair.
The Final Showdown
Both legs of the 2004 final were held at Abbasiyyin Stadium in Damascus, with the first leg on November 19 and the return fixture a week later, and the tie did not disappoint.
Goals from Chaabo and Feras Esmaeel (pictured above) *saw the away team Al Jaish two goals up by half-time before Darar Radawi pulled one back shortly after the interval, only for Amer Al Abtah’s penalty to open up a two-goal lead once more.
But Omar Akil scored in the 92nd minute to leave the final on a knife-edge following an enthralling 3-2 Al Jaish victory.
A week later the sides returned to the same venue to battle it out for the right to be crowned continental champions, and Al Jaish’s three away goals meant Al Wahda would most likely need to win by a two-goal margin to be victorious.
The game remained scoreless at the interval but in the 72nd minute Nabil Al Shahma (pictured above), scored for Al Wahda to ensure a frantic finish with the sides locked at 3-3 on aggregate.
But Al Wahda were unable to find a winning goal and it was Al Jaish who hoisted the trophy into the Damascus sky as they became the tournament’s first-ever champions.