The AFC Cup is a continental competition played in Asia between the teams that do not receive direct qualifying places in the AFC Champions League. The tournament began in 2004 as a second-tier competition to the AFC Champions League.

The basic distinction between qualifying for the AFC Cup and the AFC Champions League is determined by the level of football played within the country. For example, countries with strong football leagues like Japan, South Korea and Qatar have had little to no participation in the AFC Cup history.

On the contrary, nations with lesser football strength compete in the AFC Cup.

During the first five years of the AFC Cup, the winners were decided through a two-legged final. The first edition saw two Syrian sides in Al-Wahda and Al-Jaish going head to head for the title, with the latter coming out victorious on away goals.

Over the years, only two teams, Al-Kuwait SC and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya have won the title on three occasions. In terms of performance by nations, clubs from Kuwait have won four titles, making them the most successful country in the competition’s history.

Teams from Iraq and Jordan have won the honour on three occasions, while clubs from Syria and Bahrain have done it twice.

How do Indian teams qualify for the AFC Cup?

There are only two qualifying places for an Indian team to play in the AFC Cup. First, the winner of the I-League gets a direct entry to the AFC Cup group stage. Second, the winner of the Indian Super League is given the opportunity to first play the AFC qualifying playoff rounds before entering the competition.

How have Indian teams fared in the AFC Cup?

Over the years, only two Indian teams have managed to go beyond the round of 16 of the AFC Cup. During the inaugural edition in 2004, East Bengal defied odds to reach the quarter-finals where they were defeated by eventual finalists Al-Jaish.

In 2016, Bengaluru FC created history by becoming the first Indian team to reach the final of the AFC Cup. Up against Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya of Iraq, the team lost 1-0 in the final.

AFC Cup winners list

Year Winners Score Runners-up
2004 Al-Jaish 3-3 on aggregate (won on away goals) Al-Wahda
2005 Al-Faisaly 4-2 on aggregate Nejmeh
2006 Al-Faisaly 5-4 on aggregate Al-Muharraq
2007 Shabab Al-Ordon 2-1 on aggregate Al-Faisaly
2008 Al-Muharraq 10-5 on aggregate Safa
2009 Al-Kuwait 2-1 Al-Karamah
2010 Al-Ittihad 1-1
4-2 (penalties)
2011 FC Nasaf 2-1 Al-Kuwait
2012 Al-Kuwait 4-0 Erbil
2013 Al-Kuwait 2-0 Al-Qadsia
2014 Al-Qadsia 0-0
4-2 (penalties)
2015 Johor Darul Ta'zim 1–0 Istiklol
2016 Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya 1–0 Bengaluru FC
2017 Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya 1–0 Istiklol
2018 Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya 2-0 Altyn Asyr
2019 Al-Ahed 1–0 April 25
2021 Al-Muharraq 3-0 FC Nasaf

Featured photo: AFP / Mohd Rasfan