Club football has long been the cornerstone of the beautiful game in Asia, and the creation of the AFC Champions League represented a major move towards streamlining and enhancing the standard of the club game across the continent.
Pan-Asian club competitions date back to 1967, when the Asian Club Championship – the spiritual ancestor of the AFC Champions League – first kicked off, with Israeli clubs dominant in the early years.
Hapoel Tel Aviv secured the inaugural title before Maccabi Tel Avivi won the first of their two Asian Club Championship crowns in 1969, with Iran’s Taj club – now Esteghlal – denying them three titles in a row.
The competition, however, went into a hiatus before being revived in 1985, when clubs from the east of the continent asserted themselves on the regional scene.
Daewoo Royals started a trend that saw clubs from Korea Republic establish themselves as preeminent in Asia, becoming the first in a lineage that would see Korean teams rack up a long list of continental titles.
The success of the Asian Club Championship led, in 1991, to the creation of the Asian Cup Winners’ Cup and, four years later, the Asian Super Cup which saw the winners of the two competitions meet.
The three competitions duly merged in 2002 to create the AFC Champions League, a tournament that would determine the undisputed champions of Asia, and with an increased prize fund and a place at the FIFA Club World Cup acting as an added incentive.
Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates won the first AFC Champions League crown, defeating BEC Tero Sasana from Thailand before Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad notched up wins against Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma and Al Ain in 2004 and 2005.
East Asia broke the west’s hold in 2006 as Jeonbuk Motors defeated Syria’s Al Karamah while Japan’s Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka kept the trophy in the their side of the continent in 2007 and 2008.
The following year, Pohang Steelers became the first club to be crowned Asian champions on three occasions when they added the AFC Champions League crown to the two Asian Club Championship titles they won in 1997 and 1998, and started a run of five finals in a row to feature Korean clubs.
Al Sadd swung the balance back in favour of the west in 2011, before Ulsan Hyundai restored Korea to the summit a year later and big-spending Guangzhou Evergrande ended China's title drought in 2013 with victory over FC Seoul.
In 2014 drama was provided by Western Sydney Wanderers who claimed Australia’s first continental club success thanks to a 1-0 aggregate victory over Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
The latest excitement came out of Qatar, where Korea Repuclic's Ulsan Hyundai FC took the trophy for their second time, defeating Iran's Persepolis FC 2-1 in the final.
- The AFC