The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have just organised the continental draws for the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup - the two marquee continental club tournaments.
It was a special moment for FC Goa as they became the first Indian club to feature in the group stage of Asia's elite club competition. The Gaurs booked their berth for the coveted league by finishing at the top in the 2019-20 Indian Super League (ISL) group phase.
Goa have been clubbed with Iran's Persepolis, Qatar's Al-Rayyan and the winner of the play-off West 4 in Group E (West Zone).
Fellow ISL side ATK Mohun Bagan are set to feature in the AFC Cup, meanwhile. Bengaluru FC are also in contention to qualify for the AFC Cup, provided they negotiate the play-offs.
ATK Mohun Bagan booked their spot for the AFC Cup main draw through Mohun Bagan's I-League triumph in 2019-20. The Kolkata giants later merged with ATK to feature in ISL and be named as ATK Mohun Bagan. They will feature in Group F.
At this juncture, let us have a look at three of the best performances by the Indian clubs in the AFC Cup.
Dempo S.C - 2008, Semi-final
Goa-based Dempo SC saw a rise in the mid-2000s before their consistency helped them clinch the National Football League (NFL) in 2006-07 to qualify for the 2008 AFC Cup. They had previously failed to go past the group stage in 2006 but in their second attempt, they reached the semi-finals of the continental competition under the guidance of Armando Colaco.
They hosted Al-Ansar in their first match at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa and they beat their Lebanese opponents 3-1. Ranti Martins was in sublime form as he netted a brace while Chidi Edeh scored as well.
In their next match, they took on Sur Sports Club of Oman away from home but went down 3-2 after putting up a valiant fight, with Ranty Martins once again finding the back of the net.
In the third match, they were outclassed 4-0 by Al-Muharraq at home. They had no answer to the Bahraini outfit's attacking intent as they suffered their second consecutive defeat.
But in the reverse fixture, they avenged their loss and beat them 2-1 at their own backyard. It was once again a brace from Martins that helped them get the three points.
Next in line was a tricky away trip to Beirut where they would take on Al-Ansar. Another Martins goal helped them to a 1-1 draw.
In their last group stage match, they comprehensively beat Sur SC with a scoreline of 5-2 at home. Martins and Chidi scored two goals each as Climax Lawrence fired in the fifth.
Dempo qualified from the group as the second-placed team with 10 points from six matches. In the quarter-finals, they were drawn against Home United of Singapore. In the first leg, they drew 1-1.
The return leg was a feisty encounter and the Panjim-based side emerged triumphant after 90 minutes. Mboyo took just a minute to put Dempo in front. But their lead was short-lived as Peres De Oliviera equalised in the 13th minute.
However, Beto put Dempo ahead in the 23rd minute. But Indra Sahdan scored twice in quick succession to put United in front for the first time in the match.
Lawrence responded quickly to level things and it was Beto once again who struck in the 83rd minute to fire Dempo to the semi-finals.
In the semis, they faced Safa SC of Lebanon. The Indian side was no match for the quality Safa possessed and were outplayed 5-1 in aggregate score over the two legs. In fact, they were beaten 4-1 at home to bring down the curtains on their AFC Cup campaign.
East Bengal - 2013, Semi-final
East Bengal emulated Dempo’s run in 2008 with their own stellar campaign in the 2013 AFC Cup.
East Bengal, coached by Trevor Morgan, started their AFC Cup campaign with a slender win over Selangor at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, courtesy of a strike from Lalrindika Ralte.
In their next match, they drew 0-0 against Sai Gon Xuan Thanh away from home. They got their first win of the group against Tampines Rovers in a comprehensive 4-2 victory away from home. A brace from Andrew Barisic, a Chidi Edeh strike and an own goal was enough to get them three points.
East Bengal won the reverse fixture as well with Edeh Chidi and Ralte scoring for the hosts in a 2-1 victory.
In their next match, they drew with Selangor 2-2 in Malaysia. Penn Orji and Ralte got their names on the scoresheet for the Red and Golds.
However, they returned to winning ways in their last match of the group as they trumped Sai Gon 4-1. Orji scored a brace while Chidi and Barisic scored one apiece.
In the Round of 16, East Bengal bulldozed Yangon United 5-1. Edeh Chidi scored a hat-trick while Orji and Mehtab Hossain were the other scorers.
In the quarter-finals, they faced Semen Padang of Indonesia. Ryuji Sueoka scored the solitary goal of the first leg for East Bengal in a 1-0 win. In the return leg, a James Moga equaliser ensured a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 aggregate win for the Kolkata giants who became the second Indian side to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Cup.
In the semis they faced Al-Kuwait and they were beaten 4-2 in the first leg. The Kuwaiti side went 4 ahead within 50 minutes but East Bengal pegged two goals back with the hope of a comeback in the return leg. But in Kolkata, they were humbled by a three-goal margin which brought an end to their AFC Cup campaign.
Bengaluru FC - 2016, Final
Bengaluru FC created history as they reached the final of the 2016 AFC Cup - a first for an Indian club. The Blues were then a young club - only three years old - and reached the final of the marquee event on the back of some phenomenal performance from Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and CK Vineeth.
Bengaluru’s campaign did not get off to a great start, with a 2-1 reverse in their first group stage clash against Lao Toyota FC which was followed by a 1-0 loss to Johor Darul Ta’zim.
But a Chhetri strike helped them defeat Myanmar’s Ayeyawadi United. They followed that up with a 5-3 win over the same opponents with Vineeth, Alwyn George and Len Doungel all finding the back of the net.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh starred as Bengaluru beat Lao Toyota FC 2-1 then and a final group match loss to Johor could not stop them from qualifying to the knockout stages as the second-placed team.
Bengaluru were up against Hong Kong’s Kitchee SC in the Round of 16. Chhetri scored a double as they beat them 3-2 before taking on Singapore’s Tampines Rovers in the quarter-finals.
CK Vineeth’s strike in the first leg of the quarter-final was enough for Bengaluru to go through to semifinals after a 1-0 aggregate win.
In the semifinals, Bengaluru were up against Johor against whom they had suffered two losses during the group stages.But they managed to get a 1-1 draw in Malaysia in the first leg, thanks to Lyngdoh’s strike.
In the second leg, Chhteri scored a double and Juanan found the back of the net to help them register a 3-1 win and seal a historic spot in the final.
Though they would go down 1-0 to Iraq’s Al Quwa Al Jawiya in the summit clash, it was an achievement that showed the Indian clubs in a good light.