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Central Coast Mariners win final edition of AFC Cup

Published at :May 5, 2024 at 11:47 PM
Modified at :May 5, 2024 at 11:48 PM
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(Courtesy : AFC)

Khel Now

This was Central Coast Mariners’ first AFC Cup triumph.

Central Coast Mariners were crowned AFC Cup 2023/24 champions after defeating Lebanon’s Al Ahed FC 1-0 thanks to a late Alou Kuol strike at Sultan Qaboos Sports City on Sunday.

On their debut in the competition, Mariners became just the second Australian club to win an AFC competition, a decade after Western Sydney Wanderers won the AFC Champions League on their own debut.

The final marked the last-ever game in the AFC Cup which will make way for the three-tier AFC competitions from next season; the AFC Champions League Elite, AFC Champions League 2 and AFC Challenge League.

After a cagey start typical of a continental final, 2019 champions Al Ahed had the first sight of goal after 25 minutes. A well-worked string of passes down the left side opened space for Mohammed Al Hallak and the Syrian playmaker whipped a cross for Lee Erwin who rose highest to head it towards the bottom corner, only to be denied by a fine diving save from Danny Vukovic.

Central Coast Mariners responded within three minutes as Josh Nisbet broke into the Al Ahed box from the left, sending a low cross that seemed destined to be converted by Ryan Edmondson who somehow failed to connect with it, and the ball fell to Miguel Di Pizio at the far post, but his finish was tame and was easily collected by Mostafa Matar.

Neither goalkeeper could be beaten before the break, with Matar making a comfortable save from Jacob Ferrell’s effort from long range and Vukovic having no trouble saving Mohammad Al Marmour’s header from a tight angle after the Syrian was set-up by a Hussein Zein cross.

The second half carried on in the same rhythm of its predecessor, with Edmondson’s drilled effort at the hour mark the only chance of the early proceedings.

Centre-back Khalil Khamis had to put all his defensive acumen into action to deny Mariners back-to-back chances with 10 minutes left. The 29-year-old threw his body in the face of Nesbit’s initial shot after Storm Roux had advanced down the right and crossed into the box. Khamis showed exceptional quick reflexes and bravery to dive in the face of the rebound from Ronald Barcellos.

At the other end of the pitch, Hasan Srour beat his marker and fired towards goal, but his effort from inside the box struck the side netting.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 84th minute thanks to Kuol. The 22-year-old had come off the bench 20 minutes earlier, replacing Edmondson and made the necessary impact. He latched onto a fine through ball from Barcellos, hitting it low through the legs of goalkeeper Matar to bag what proved to be the winner for the Mariners.

Some heroic defending and a series of last-ditch tackles in eight minutes of added time allowed the Australian side to hold on and secure their first-ever continental trophy.

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