Throwback: The History of Indian Clubs in AFC Champions League

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Only 2 days remain as we approach the all-awaited AFC Champions League. The stage is set, the players are ready, and FC Goa is gearing up to take on Asia. The Gaurs will be representing India and have written their names in the history books, as they become the first-ever Indian Club to feature in the Group stage of the “current format” of the AFC Champions League.

Well, when I say current format, without a doubt it implies that there were previous versions and formats of the tournament, and a Football crazy Nation like India surely has been a part of it. So without further delay, let’s have a quick look at the Indian Football Clubs, who have featured in the earlier versions of the AFC Champion’s League.

There have been a number of clubs from India, who have participated in the previous versions of the tournament along with playing the play-offs, qualifying rounds and preliminary rounds of the current format of the tournament.

Starting from 1969 till date, 14 Indian Clubs have featured in the competition apart from FC Goa and are named below, before we discuss how they performed in the tournament.

1. Mysore State8. Churchill Brothers
2. Bengal9. Dempo
3. FC Punjab Police10. Pune
4. East Bengal11. Bengaluru FC
5. Mohun Bagan12. Aizawl FC
6. Salgaocar13. Minerva Punjab FC
7. JCT14. Chennai City
Indian Clubs Featured in different versions of the AFC Champions League
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Among all the 14, Mysore State, Bengal, and FC Punjab Police were the first 3 teams to play the competition way back in 1969, 1970, and 1971 respectively. It was then known as the Asian Champion Club Tournament, with Mysore State having the best record amongst them, with a 4th place finish in 1969.

The tournament was then renamed and rebranded as the Asian Club Championship, and the first club from India to enter the tournament was East Bengal. East Bengal played in the Asian Club Championship Twice in 1985 and the 1998-99 version of the tournament with their highest finish being 3rd in Group Semi’s, in 1985.

Throwback: The History of Indian Clubs in AFC Champions League 470164 mohun bagan jeje

The next team to feature from India was Mohun Bagan who have played in the tournament on 7 occasions, 5 times in the Asian Club Championship, and twice in the AFC Champions League. Mohun Bagan’s best finish in the Asian Club Championship came in the 1988-89 season as they finished 4th in Group Semi’s. The two occasions in which Mohun Bagan played in the current format of the AFC Champions League were in the 2002-03 season and 2016 where they could only survive up to Qualifying Round 3, and Preliminary Round 2 respectively.

Churchill Brothers played in the tournament thrice with 1 appearance in the Asian Club Championship and 2 being in the current format of the tournament, in 1997-98, 2002-03, and 2010 respectively. They featured in the 1st Round of the Tournament in their first attempt, while were eliminated in Qualifying Round 3 and Qualifying play-off in the later 2 attempts.

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Although Churchill Brothers weren’t able to rise higher, Goan hopes never died as Salgaocar and Dempo also qualified for the tournament 2 times each. Salgaocar on both occasions playing the Asian Club Championship and Dempo on both occasions playing in the AFC Champions League. Salgaocar impressively finished 2nd in Group stage in both their attempts in 1989-90 and 1990-91, while Dempo was knocked out in the play-off and Qualifying play-off stages, in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Among the remaining clubs, JCT was the only other club to play in the Asian Club Championship, where they were eliminated in the 2nd round, in 1996-97. Other than JCT, Pune, Aizawl FC, Minerva Punjab, and Chennai City got an opportunity, once each, to play in the current format of the AFC Champions League. But they were only able to go as far as the Qualifying play-off Round 1, Play-off round, Preliminary Round 2, and Preliminary Round 1, in 2014, 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively.

Bengaluru FC on the other hand has played twice in the current format of the AFC Champions League in 2015 and 2017, but could only make it through to Preliminary Round 1 and Preliminary Round 2 respectively in their two attempts.

FC Goa is hence the first Indian Club who are going to play in the group stage of the AFC Champions League and are holding the Indian flag high with hopes of numerous fans from Goa and across the country keeping an eye on their performance and hoping for a good fight from their team in the competition.

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If you’re new to following Indian Football closely and are wondering wonder about the value of the tournament, then a small line to simplify it in simple words goes that, this is the Asian version of what keeps you awake at late hours with hashtags UCL Nights. While UCL is the Champions League of Europe, ACL is the Champions League in Asia.

FC Goa will be facing Al Rayyan on their opening fixture on 14th April, and the match will start at 10:30 pm IST. Wishing FC Goa all the very best for the tournament, while we eagerly wait for the matches to begin. To know more about the opponents’ Al Rayyan, Read here: Al-Rayyan SC – All you need to know about FC Goa’s AFC Champions League rivals

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