Top 5 Best Matches in AFC Champions League History

Some of the mentioned teams have lifted the AFC Champions League too!

Following the end of yet another chapter of Asia's premier club competition, the AFC Champions League 2023–24 final, in which Al Ain defeated Yokohama of Japan, the match highlighted the exceptional football talent and untapped potential of Asia.

Top 5 Best Matches in AFC Champions League History
Credit - AFC

This list showcases some of the most thrilling matches in Asian football over the past 20 years, which true fans will never forget. These are a handful of those legendary AFC Champions League matches to refresh the memories that became a core memory.

5. Al. Hilal v Shabab Al Ahli – (2015, Semi-Final)

Al. Hilal v Shabab Al Ahli – (2015, Semi-Final)
Credit - AFC

One of the big four of Saudi Arabian Football powerhouse, Al Hilal suffered heartbreak at the final of the 2014 edition, losing out to debutants Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 over on aggregate. The following year, they bounced back hoping to make it to the final once again and hopefully cross the finish line this time.

Champions of the United Arab Emirates, Al Ahli (now Shabab Al Ahli), who had advanced this far to the semifinal just like their rivals Al Hilal after defeating Persepolis and Lekhwiya (now Al Duhail), stood in their way as the obstacle to get the chance to be in the final showdown. The first leg ended in a 1-1 tie in Riyadh, thanks to goals from Brazilians Rodrigo Lima and Ailton Almeida. This set up an exciting return match in Dubai.

Lima gave Shabab Al Ahli the lead at Rashid Stadium in just 17 minutes, much like he did at King Fahd International Stadium after turning Ahmed Khalil's cross from point blank range into the back of the net. Everton Ribeiro's goal to extend the home team's lead before halftime which had them jumping up and down in joy like a child.

Al Hilal had to score two goals in the second half to secure the victory, and they accomplished this with flair. Almeida scored a goal from the edge of the area just six minutes into the second half, and Carlos Eduardo hit the net from a long range to equalize the score at halftime.

Deep into added time, with 5 minutes of those already up in air, a Shabab Al Ahli corner was pushed away by goalkeeper Abdullah Al Sudairy. However, he could only push it away as far as Kwon Kyung-won who ended up striking it home on the half-volley into the back of the net to send his side to their first-ever AFC Champions League final with the very last kick of the game.

4. FC Seoul vs Urawa Red Diamonds (2016, Round of 16)

FC Seoul vs Urawa Red Diamonds (2016, Round of 16)
Credit - AFC

Three-time champions Urawa Red Diamonds have had their fair share of heart in mouth type matches over the years. The last-16 tie against FC Seoul in 2016 was another that those fans would not be forgetting anytime soon.

Tomoya Ugajin’s first-leg goal at Saitama Stadium saw Urawa head to Korea Republic with a slender lead but Adriano squared for Dejan Damjanovic to tap home just before the 30-minute mark at Seoul World Cup Stadium to put both sides on level terms once more.

Urawa’s Shinzo Koroki missed the best of the chances in the second half as the scoreboard did not even move an inch and headed to extra time. The tournament’s top scorer Adriano netted his 11th goal of the campaign to put Seoul in front in the 94th minute. But the game was by no means done.

Two Tadanari Lee goals in the 112th and 115th minutes stunned the hosts and turned the game on its head as Urawa appeared set to advance. However, there was yet another M Shyamalan type twist to the game as Go Yo-han cut in from the right in stoppage time and struck a left-foot effort from distance that raced past goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa and ensured the game would go to penalties.

With the shootout at 6-6, Seoul goalkeeper Yu Sang-hun saved from Yoshiaki Komai, allowing Kim Dong-woo to blast home the winner and seal a quarter-final ticket after a match that seemed to be straight out of a K-Drama ot anime series.

3. Guangzhou FC vs Shanghai Port (2017, Quarter-Final)

Guangzhou FC vs Shanghai Port (2017, Quarter-Final)
Credit - ESPN

An encounter between two of Chinese biggest in 2017 when they were at the peak of their powers promised something magical. As the country’s dominant force two-time AFC Champions League winners Guangzhou FC went head-to-head with a Shanghai Port team that themselves was fully loaded with foreign stars with the intent on shifting the scales in their favor both at home and across the continent.

The match in Shanghai was a clear indicator that they were well capable of doing just that as goals from Hulk, Wang Shenchao and a Wu Lei brace ensured an emphatic 4-0 win and gave Guangzhou mission impossible for their return meeting at Tianhe Stadium.

It was a challenge, a manage of the pedigree of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side rose to as a brace from Alan saw them go into the interval two goals up and salvaging something from the match a very real prospect. Then, with the game into its final 10 minutes, Ricardo Goulart’s diving header from Alan’s cross  further shelved the deficit to a single goal to line up a nerve-racking final few moments.

Shanghai were not able to cope with the Guangzhou onslaught as Goulart rose high at the back post to head home Li Xuepeng’s cross to send the home crowd into a tizzy. Wang Jiajie’s sending off learly in extra time appeared to confirm the Shanghai collapse, but out of nowhere, Hulk won a free-kick and then curled home from 25 yards to stun the hosts.

Incredibly, the game was not done, with Guangzhou throwing Caution to the wind and  everything else possible at their opponents. A little over three minutes remaining, Wang brought down Alan as he ran through on goal, was promptly sent off and Goulart dispatched the ensuing spot-kick ended up taking the match into spot kicks.

But Goulart in a matter of a single shot managed to undo his good work as he struck the post with the first penalty. Having scored all of their first four spot-kicks, Yu Hai stepped forward to send Shanghai into their first-ever semi-finals after a clash that would be played on TV years after it had ended.

2. Al Jazira v Persepolis – (2018, Round of 16)

Al Jazira v Persepolis – (2018, Round of 16)
Credit -

Persepolis’ journey to the 2018 final saw them pit themselves against the UAE champions Al Jazira in the round of 16. Things looked going as per plan for the Iranian giants when Ali Alipour scored a header and headed them in front three minutes before the break in Abu Dhabi.

Some mazy footwork from Ali Mabkhout saw him beat two defenders and slot it into the netting from the edge of the area to level the scores for Al Jazira seven minutes after the restart. Mabkhout then turned provider, feeding Romarinho who calmly did the job and shot it past Alireza Beiranvand to make it 2-1.

Al Jazira captain Ali Khaseif thought that his job was done and he had rescued his side from any late surprises when he parried Godwin Mensah’s penalty in the 82nd minute. But as fate would have it, the referee declared the Emirati goalkeeper to have moved off his line, ordering the penalty to be retaken. This time around, Mensah righted his wrongs and sent Khaseif the wrong way to balance the scales. 

With the clock eventually moving towards the final whistle, 19-year-old defender Khalifa Al Hammadi rose as if head a literal spring to head home a free-kick and earn his side a 3-2 win.

The following week, in front of 80,000 fans at Azadi Stadium, Persepolis fluffed a bucketload of opportunities before Ahmad Nourollahi finally opened the scoring with a long-range stunned after 60 minutes. Romarinho pegged one back in the 70th minute to give the Emiratis the aggregate edge again.

Just as in the first leg, lightning actually ended up striking twice but the face was different this time. The result was same no doubt as once again it was a centre-back who decided it very deep in the game. This time, it was veteran Seyed Jalal Hosseini who hammered in on the half-volley in the final minute of the game, changed the destination of the quarter-finals ticket rerouting it from Abu Dhabi to Tehran.

1. Al Hilal v Al Sadd – (2019, Semi-Final)

Al Hilal v Al Sadd – (2019, Semi-Final)
Credit - AFC

Al Hilal had been chasing the AFC Champions League title for close to twenty years by 2019, having lost in the finals in 2014 and 2017. Their path to the 2019 final involved a match against the 2011 champions, Al Sadd.

French striker Bafetimbi Gomis experienced a stroke of bad luck as he unintentionally scored an own goal. However, Al Hilal managed to bounce back and secure a resounding 4-1 win in the first leg at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium. Despite Abdelkarim Hassan's red card, Gomis redeemed himself with two goals, while Ali Al Bulayhi and Mohammed Al Shalhoub also found the back of the net to almost put the final nail in the coffin.

The 20,000 supporters assembled at King Saud University Stadium anticipated an evening of fun even more so following Salem Al Dawsari's goal which increased their overall lead to 5-1.

The sub events that unfolded into an exhilarating evening of AFC Champions League football is the stuff fictional football stories are made of. Akram Afif, Nam Tae-hee, and Hassan Al Haydos scored goals in quick succession, resulting in Al Sadd taking the lead with a score of 3-1 within the first 20 minutes of the match.

And before you know, in a blink of an eye it was 5-4 on aggregate and Al Hilal fans began to sweat profusely even though the match was being played out on a cool October evening in Riyadh. A 25th minute strike from Gomis did little to calm the nerves, so when Boualem Khoukhi powered in a header a minute before the end of added time, it got everyone up from their seats. Everyone at the ground were nervous  when Nam lined-up a free-kick from 20 yards out as that going in could have sent Al Sadd to the final. But the final twist in the tale sealed the fate of the match as Abdullah Al Mayouf's crucial save brought relief to the Saudi fans and ensured Al Hilal went on that plane to the final for the third time in five years instead of heading back home.

Cover Credits - AFC

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