Defending I-League champions Bengaluru FC created history on October 19 when they became the first Indian club to reach the AFC Cup final after defeating Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semis. The significance of this achievement can be gauged by the fact that only two Indian football clubs -- Dempo Sports Club and East Bengal -- had made it to the semifinals of the tournament since its inception.
However, both of those campaigns were cut short by teams from West Asia and in the final of the AFC Cup, Bengaluru FC will also be facing a well-decorated team from the western part of the continent - Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya.
Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Iraq Air Force Club) was the first football club to be founded in Iraq and as a result, it holds a special place in the history of the country’s sporting legacy. The club officially came into existence on July 4th 1931, under the unusual name of Gipsy Moth and it was started by a group of Iraqi flight policemen on the RAF Base of Hinaidi. The club played its first game on the July 5th, 1931 against a team from the Habbaniya RAF base and soon they became a well known name in Iraq.
In recent times, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya have been one of Iraq’s most successful clubs, having won ten national titles, the most recent being in the 2004–05 season. The club has also won four Iraq FA Cups, , as well as a joint-record three Umm Al-Ma’arik Cups and two Al-Muthabara Cups. It also holds the distinction of being one of only two clubs to win all four of the Iraqi domestic trophies in the same season (1996–97).
The Iraqi club has been somewhat of a wildcard till now as this is their first time in the AFC Cup after two teams from Iraq -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. But, that did not faze the club and they topped their group with five wins out of six despite having to play their home games in Qatar.
They cruised past Al Wehdat of Jordan in the round of 16 and then followed it up with a commendable victory against Al Jaish of Syria in the quarterfinals. In the semis, they faced a tough challenge in Lebanon’s Al-Ahed, but a dramatic 3-2 win in the away leg ensured their place in the grand finale against Bengaluru FC.
Al Quwa Al Jawiya squad’s core comprises of all Iraqi players and the trump card for them in this tournament has been their striker Hammadi Ahmad. With 15 goals to his name already, the 27-year old has been a force to reckon with and the team will surely be relying on them to produce a bit of magic during the summit clash on November 5.
Thus, it can be safely said that Bengaluru FC have their work cut out in the AFC Cup final and they will have to produce something special to overcome Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya.