Air Force Club are somewhat of an unknown quantity as this is their first appearance in the AFC Cup. We take a look at how they got to the final.
Two Iraqi sides, Air Force Club and Naft Al-Wasat, were only allowed into the competition after being given special permission to participate as no Iraqi team was qualified to participate in the AFC Champions League.
The group stages
Nevertheless, Air Force Club finished top of Group C with five wins out of six despite having to play their home games in Qatar.
The Iraqis won all three ‘home’ games as well as earning two victories on the road, including a 0-2 win over Al Dharia of Palestine and an impressive 0-4 win in Oman over bottom club Al Orouba. Their only defeat, a 5-2 reverse, coming against Al Wahda of Syria.
The round of 16
As Group C winners, Air Force Club earned a home tie against Group A runner’s up Al Wehdat of Jordan in the round of 16.
The Iraqis started strongly and took a 2-0 lead in the first half with goals from Mohammed Hassan (13) and Hammadi Ahmed (37), before the Jordanian side struck back before the break with a goal from Abdallah Deeb.
Al Wehdat controlled the second half of the game and pushed hard in search of a goal, but were unable to find an equaliser.
Air Force Club’s opponents in the quarter-finals were Al Jaish of Syria. Both ties were played in Doha because of instability in Iraq and Syria.
Al Jaish gained a slim advantage in the first leg following a 1-1 draw in what was Air Force Club’s ‘home’ leg, the Iraqi side snatching an injury-time equaliser thanks to striker Hammadi Ahmad’s 13th goal in the competition.
With the second leg level at halftime after a tense, goalless first period, the Iraqi side suddenly sprung into life, netting four goals without reply. Resan, Radhi, Ahmad’s 14th goal of the campaign and Mohsin all scoring as Air Force Club emerged 5-1 winners on aggregate to claim a semi-final spot against Lebanon’s Al Ahed.
It didn’t look good for Air Force Club against Al Ahed of Lebanon in the semis after a 1-1 ‘home’ draw in the first leg played in Qatar, but with star striker Ahmad back after missing the first leg through suspension Air Force Club earned a 3-2 win thanks to a Bashar Resan strike with 14 minutes remaining.
Air Force Club club history
Air Force Club is the oldest existing football club in Iraq having been founded in 1931.
Iraq, Baghdad, Air Force Sports Club in 1935. pic.twitter.com/RlXpOASs7F
— Old Iraqi Pictures (@IraqiPic) March 2, 2016
The five time Iraqi Premier League winners and four time Iraqi FA cup winners have competed in the AFC Champions League three times, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, but failed to qualify from the groups stage on each occasion.