The AFC Champions League (ACL) is the premier club football competition in the continent of Asia, much like how the UEFA Champions League is for Europe.
Held by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the football governing body of Asia, the ACL was first held in 1967.
From 1967 to 1971, the competition was called the Asian Champion Club Tournament. After the 1972 edition was cancelled due to various reasons, the tournament was put on hold for a few years until it returned as the rebranded Asian Club Championship in 1985.
In 2002, the competition, which sees the best teams (domestic league or Cup winners) from top Asian countries vie for the coveted continental honour each year, was renamed the AFC Champions League – the name it goes by to date.
The inaugural edition in 1967 was a six-team affair, where Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv beat Malaysia’s Selangor FA to become the first-ever AFC Champions League winners.
In all, 24 different clubs from 10 different countries have claimed the coveted trophy. Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal are the most successful team in the history of the AFC Champions League with four titles (1991, 1999–2000, 2019, 2021). Al-Hilal are the reigning ACL champions,
Al-Hilal also hold the record for most final appearances in the ACL, having appeared in eight title rounds.
South Korea’s Pohang Steelers have won three titles (1996–97, 1997–98, 2009) but were pipped by Al-Hilal in the 2021 final. Korean teams, in fact, have the best record in the ACL with 10 different teams winning 12 titles.
India at AFC Champions League
Interestingly, an Indian team was set to participate in the inaugural edition in 1967 but withdrew. In 1969, Mysore State became the first side to represent India at the continental showpiece, which was then dubbed the Asian Champion Club tournament. Mysore State finished fourth, to date India’s best showing on the continental stage.
In the Asian Club Championship, Kolkata giants East Bengal were the first Indian team to participate.
Since the tournament was renamed to AFC Champions League in 2002, no Indian team managed to qualify for the main draw of the competition until 2021.
With the AFC granting a direct group stage entry to Indian Super League (ISL) sides which won the ISL League Winners Shield, which began from 2019-20, FC Goa became the first Indian side to qualify for the AFC Champions League and played in the ACL 2021.
Mumbai City FC earned the honours for ACL 2022 and became the first Indian team to win a match in the AFC Champions League with a group stage win over Iraq’s Air Force Club.
With a direct ACL main draw spot reserved for the ISL League Winners Shield holders, India is expected to have permanent representation in the AFC Champions League going forward.
AFC Champions League winners list
*Asian Champion Club Tournament era (1967-71), Asian Club Championship era (1985-2001/02), Asian Champions League era (2001/02 - present)