The Protectors created history by being the first team from Singapore to clinch such an honour. However their achievement only represents a small piece of what is essentially a bigger pie.
Being the AFC Cup’s ASEAN Zone champions means now the Singaporean side will have a chance to go on and become champions of the AFC Cup proper. After defeating Southeast Asia’s best teams, they will now face North Korean outfit 4.25 SC of DPR Korea, who booked their place in the inter-zone semi-finals by finishing top of East Asia’s Group I.
So who exactly are 4.25 SC of DPR Korea?
Having links with the Korean army, 4.25 SC – or April 25 Sports Club – were founded in 1949.
In terms of titles the Pyongyang based team is the most successful club in the DPR Korea Premier Football League with 17 titles to their name, 11 more than the next closest challengers.
Before the advent of the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup, 4.25 SC regularly featured in the Asian Club Championship and their best result was a third-place finish in 1991, when they were eliminated in the semi-finals but beat Indonesia’s Pelita Jaya (now Madura United) on penalties in the playoff.
Record in the AFC Cup
4.25 SC have emerged twice as champions of East Asia since the AFC Cup introduced zonal segregation at the start of last year.
4.25 SC also reached the inter-zone semi-finals in 2017 but that was as far as they went, as they were beaten 3-0 on aggregate by Indian giants Bengaluru FC.
Their cause has no doubt been aided by the fact that teams from Japan, Korea Republic and China only compete in the Champions League and AFC Cup, meaning they have had to jostle with teams from Chinese Taipei, Macau, Mongolia and their North Korean compatriots.
However with that in mind, this is a team that has produced some dominant displays to finish top of Group with six wins from six, notching 23 goals in the process and conceding just twice.
Home will have to be wary of playmaker An Il-bom whose ability on the ball makes him a constant threat. Forward Kim Yu-song is also another player to watch out for given his prowess in front of goal which led him to be AFC Cup’s top scorer last season . Both are also DPR Korea internationals.
Yu-song however will miss the first leg in Singapore as he is currently on international duty at the Asian Games.
The winner of this tie will then progress to the inter-zone final, where they will face the victor of the other semi-final between Bengaluru and Turkmenistan’s Altyn Asyr.
The winner of the inter-zone final will then advance to the actual final, where either defending champions Air Force Club or Jordan’s Al Jazeera, who will contest the West Asia final on September 18 and October 2, will lie in wait.