After the 2020 AFC Cup was cancelled, some teams who excelled in the previous edition will be vying for glory this time around.

With the AFC Champions League group stages recently concluded, the AFC Cup 2021 is on the horizon. Bengaluru FC are poised to ensure qualification to the group stages, granted they defeat Club Eagles. ATK Mohun Bagan are another Indian Super League (ISL) team who have already qualified and are keen to make a bright impression.

However, winning the entire competition is another prospect altogether. Many experienced, talented teams have ensured qualification and will fight hard to win the prestigious title. After the 2020 AFC Cup was cancelled, some teams who excelled in the previous edition will be vying for glory this time around.

Certain top teams are better equipped than others to win the competition. On that note, Khel Now takes a look at the top five favourites to win the AFC Cup 2021:

5. FC Nasaf

The Uzbekistan giants will be playing in the AFC Cup for the first time since 2011. The last time they appeared, they won the competition and even defeated Indian side Dempo DC along the way.

Nasaf finished runners-up in the Uzbekistan Super League last season, guaranteeing them a place here. With players like Red Star Belgrade academy graduate Marko Stanojevic and talented youngsters like Oybek Bozorov and Sharof Mukhiddov, Nasaf possess a thrilling attack.

With their experience and history in the AFC Cup, the Dragons will be a force to be reckoned with. If their sturdy defence can hold up against the big sides and key attacking stars can be clinical, the Uzbekistan giants can cause a surprise and repeat their heroics from 2011.

4. Kuwait SC

In their eight AFC Cup appearances Kuwait SC have won the tournament thrice (image via KSC Media)

After years of dominating in the AFC Cup, Kuwait SC were surprisingly knocked out in the group stages in 2019. But, being three-time winners across the last 12 years, they are always in the race for this cup. Kuwait SC won the last edition of the VIVA Premier League in dominant fashion and are known for playing attractive, fast-paced football.

They boast some of Kuwait’s best players like Faisal Zayed, Talal Al Fadhel and Yousef Nasser. Then there are quality foreigners like Jumaa Sayed and Abdoul Sissoko adding even more firepower to their attack.

In their eight AFC Cup appearances, KSC have won the tournament thrice and got beyond the quarterfinals thrice. Hence, they’re likely to come out fighting this time around. With a jam-packed squad and top-level experience, the Kuwaiti side will be a team not many will fancy facing in the AFC Cup 2021.

3. Altyn Asyr FK

Altyn Asyr have been one of the AFC Cup’s most consistent sides in recent times. Despite this, they have always stumbled at the last hurdle. In the 2018 edition, they lost in the final and were knocked out in the interzone playoff semi-finals in the 2019 edition. This time, however, they will hope to break that curse. The Turkmenistan club only boast players from their own country who are hungry for continental glory.

Striker Mihail Titow, who has scored 95 goals in 133 appearances for them, will be one of the stars to watch in the AFC Cup. But, he’ll need to be supported by his teammates for Altyn Asyr to mount another title challenge in the AFC Cup.

They’ll need to be mentally strong to defy the odds and defeat the prominent sides. Arriving at the competition with the hopes of the entire country, Altyn Asyr should pose a strong challenge to every opposition.

2. Hanoi FC

Geovane Magno is a prolific but will need to be at his best for Hanoi FC

The Vietnamese giants had a case of so close yet so far in the last AFC Cup. Hanoi went all the way to the interzone playoff final before losing to finalists April 25 on away goals!

They defeated difficult teams like Altyn Asyr and Becamex Binh Duong en-route, but succumbed in the end. Therefore, this time around, they’ll be determined to go all the way. With former South Korean International and Olympic Bronze Medal winner Park Choong-kyun at the helm, things could change.

Hanoi will hope their quality Vietnamese stars shine in the competition as well as the Brazilian talents. Bruno Catanhede and Geovane Magno are both prolific talents, but will need to be at their best to help them dominate the competition. Placed in a relatively comfortable group, Hanoi will hope to win the group stages and then grind their way to the finish line – all the while playing exciting, end-to-end football.

1. Al-Ahed

The defending AFC Cup champions made history by winning the competition in 2019, becoming the first Lebanese side to do so. In this edition, they will aim to extend that record by becoming the first to retain the title!

With an all-Lebanese squad, Al-Ahed will hope to outwork their opponents on the pitch. Attacking stars Mahdi Fahes, Hussein Monzer and Mohamed Hader are all crucial to their chances, as they need to be at their clinical best.

But, it’s Al-Ahed’s rock-solid defence which played a huge role in winning them the AFC Cup last time out. Similarly, they need to be an impenetrable unit at the back and clinical on counter-attacks to grind their way to another title.

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