Mumbai City recently became the first Indian club to win a game at the AFC Champions League.

Indian football is slowly growing. In the previous decades, we witnessed a few Indian clubs making it to the knockout stages of the AFC Cup. Since 2021, however, we have also noticed a few teams securing a place in the topmost level of Asian club football, the AFC Champions League. Not only have the respective teams played well, but they’ve also made the country proud.

In this article, we’ll look at the top five moments of Indian clubs in Asia.

5. FC Goa qualify for AFC Champions League

FC Goa kept a clean sheet against Al-Rayyan in the AFC Champions League (Courtesy: AFC Champions League)

After ending the 2019/20 season as table-toppers of the Indian Super League and thereby winning the League Winners’ Shield, FC Goa became the first Indian club to be promoted to the top tier competition of football in Asia, AFC Champions League. The campaign was a smooth one for Juan Ferrando’s side. Though they failed to secure a victory, the team ended the group stage with three points. All these points came in the form of draws – two against Al-Rayyan and one against Al-Wahda. Due to his brilliance under the sticks, Dheeraj Singh was named in the AFC Champions League Team of the Tournament. The lad enjoyed a clean sheet in the very first game against Al-Rayyan.

Edu Bedia became the first goal scorer for an Indian club in the league when he scored against Persepolis. Notably, the last match in their campaign saw the Gaurs fielding an all-Indian brigade headed by assistant coach Clifford Miranda. Unfortunately, FC Goa lost the game by 2-0.

4. Dempo SC become the first Indian club to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Cup

In 2008, Dempo SC became the first-ever Indian club to elevate to the semi-finals of the AFC Cup. In Group A of the competition, Dempo found themselves engulfed by Al-Ansar, Al-Muharraq and Sur. Under the tutelage of Armando Colaco, Dempo made a second-place finish in their group to qualify for the knockout stages. In their fourth fixture, they defeated Al-Muharraq (2-1), the team which ultimately won the competition that year. Notably, in their last group fixture, Dempo thrashed Sur by 5-2. In the quarter-finals, Dempo edged past Home United by 5-4 (aggregate). Unfortunately, they lost both the semi-final legs against Safa and ended their campaign. Ranti Martins was the third-highest goal scorer in the tournament with eight goals.

3. East Bengal stay unbeaten in the Group Stage of AFC Cup 2013

The AFC Cup 2013 marked East Bengal turning out to be an indomitable force in the competition. Group H (East Asia Zone) comprised Tampine Rovers, Sai Gon Xuan Thanh and Selangor apart from the Kolkata giants. Notably, East Bengal ended their group stage with 14 points in six games. They won four matches and drew two. They remain the only Indian side to be unbeaten in the group stage in that format of the competition. Eventually, East Bengal progressed into the semi-finals where they suffered an aggregated defeat of 7-2 against Kuwait SC.

2. Mumbai City do double over Air Force Club

After FC Goa, Mumbai City emerged as the second ISL side to get a spot in the AFC Champions League. Mumbai City ended second in Group B with seven points. But they failed to qualify as they weren’t eligible to be one of the three best runners up (of the respective groups) from the five West Asian groups. However, in their campaign, they earned two victories, both against Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force Club of Iraq). Apparently, the Iraq-based club had won the AFC Cup on three consecutive occasions from 2016 to 2018. Such a feat of doing a double over former AFC Cup champions is definitely a bench-mark for Indian football. This should also act as an inspiration for other Indian clubs in the upcoming years.

1. Bengaluru FC reach the AFC Cup final in 2016

Bengaluru FC faced Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in the final of the AFC Cup 2016 (Courtesy: Bengaluru FC)

Under the tutelage of Spaniard Albert Roca, Bengaluru FC progressed into the final of the AFC Cup 2016, perhaps the best achievement by an Indian club in Asia. In Group H of the East Zone, Bengaluru FC played against clubs like Johor Darul Ta’zim, Ayeyawady United and Lao Toyota FC. They ended second in their group with nine points and made their way into the knockout stages. In the quarter-finals, the Blues went past Tampine Rovers to face former group-mates Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semi-finals. Notably, the second leg fixture against the Malaysian club saw Bengaluru winning the game 3-1. This was Johor Darul Ta’zim’s first defeat in the tournament. The Sunil Chhetri-led Bengaluru side met Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in the final, where their championship hopes ended after a 70th-minute goal from their opponents. This is the highest an Indian club has achieved in a recognized Asian club competition.

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