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Hisor: Emad Mohsin struck the only goal of the game as Iraq’s Air Force Club retained their AFC Cup title following a 1-0 victory over Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol in the final at Hisor Central Stadium on Saturday.

After a goalless first half, Air Force Club spurned a glorious opportunity to take the lead shortly after the restart as captain Hammadi Ahmed’s penalty was saved by Nikola Stosic.

But Mohsin then fired home a stunning effort midway through the half and the hosts were unable to respond as Air Force Club claimed back-to-back titles and relegated Istiklol to a second runners-up spot in three years.

The defending champions started brightly and almost opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Syrian midfielder Zaher Al Medani headed against the woodwork from Humam Tareq’s corner from the left.

After spending much of the first 20 minutes on the back foot, Istiklol came back into the game and top scorer Manuchehr Dzhalilov had his first sight on goal midway through the half, only to see his effort on the turn blocked as Air Force Club cleared to safety.

As the first half wore on it was the Tajik team who were controlling the majority of the possession and Dzhalilov fired over from the penalty spot after a cutback from Oleksandr Stetsenko from the right byline six minutes before the interval.

Eight minutes after the restart, Air Force Club were awarded a penalty when Istiklol captain Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev upended Tareq as he tried to get on the end of an Ali Bahjat cross from the left and the referee pointed to the spot.

But goalkeeper Stosic proved the hero as he dived full stretch to his right to deny last year’s top scorer Ahmed and delight the vocal home support inside Hisor Central Stadium.

Air Force Club then did take the lead in the 68th minute when Ahmed laid back Sameh Saeed’s cross from the right for Mohsin to emphatically finish from 12 yards for his third goal of the campaign.

The lively Tareq then curled a free-kick from just outside the box narrowly wide with 15 minutes remaining as the defending champions looked to put the game beyond their opponents.

As the clock ticked down Istiklol pushed for the equaliser but Air Force Club, who had kept six clean sheets in 10 games, remained firm at the back as the hosts were unable to get a clear sight on goal.

Ahmed had a chance to add a second in stoppage time but failed to connect with Tareq’s cross from the left, before he blazed over from close in soon after but Air Force Club saw out the game to become just the third side to retain the AFC Cup.


Photo: Lagardère Sports