FC HTTU win last-ever AFC President’s Cup

Colombo: Akmyrat Jumanazarov and Suleyman Muhadov scored as Turkmenistan’s FC HTTU claimed victory in the last-ever AFC President’s Cup after their 2-1 victory over Rimyongsu Club of DPR Korea in Friday’s final at Sugathadasa Stadium.

Jumanazrov’s 36th minute header had given FC HTTU the lead as Rowshen Meredov’s side looked to keep the title in Turkmenistan after countrymen Balkan FT had won last year’s edition of the tournament.

Despite Rimyongsu pressing for an equaliser they were hit on the counter in the 54th minute by Muhadov who notched his tournament-leading sixth goal in just three games. And although the DPR Korea side pulled a late goal back on 86 minutes through defender Ri Kwang-hok to give them a sliver of hope, FC HTTU were able to hold on for a historic victory.

FC HTTU had begun the championship climax with a trio of fresh faces with Gurbangeldi Batyrov, Azat Shamyradov and Jumanazarov returning to the side after their absence from the starting eleven in Wednesday’s Group A decider against hosts Sri Lanka Airforce SC.

Rimyongsu, meanwhile, brought in Kang Won-myong for the suspended Ri Sang-chol and joining him was forward Kim Kyong-il with Jang Kwang-hyok making way.

The DPR Korean club had boasted a flawless record in the group stage, in which they scored nine without conceding to top Group B, but it was FC HTTU who looked intent on imposing themselves on the game from the start and on six minutes Batyrov’s in-swinging free-kick from the right-hand side required an alert stop from Rimyongsu goalkeeper Ju Kwang-min.

And there was more penalty area drama 10 minutes later after, as both Ro Hak-su and Hang Song-hyok failed to deal with Batyrov’s cross and the defenders were fortunate that the normally clinical Muhadov was unable to capitalise when the ball fell to him six yards out.

Rimyongsu captain Pak Song-chol did then give a reminder of his threat from set-pieces with a free-kick from the left-side of the penalty area that almost caught out FC HTTU custodian Nurgeldy Astanov who belatedly fisted clear.

But with nine minutes of the half remaining, FC HTTU broke the deadlock with a textbook training ground set-piece after Ri Chang-ho needlessly conceded a corner with a wayward backward header.

From the resulting dead-ball, Batyrov played the ball down the line to an on-rushing David Sarkisov whose whipped-in cross fizzed menacingly into the penalty area where it was met by a fine arching header from Jumanazarov that arrowed into the bottom left-hand corner.

After the half-time interval, Ri Hyok went close to drawing Rimyongsu level with a shot as he fell on the edge of penalty area but Astanov was able to get down low to his right and clutch the ball as it threatened to bobble past him.

But with the DPR Korean side intent on attack, they were caught on the counter on 54 minutes as Shamyradov motored down the right flank before zipping in an inviting low cross that bypassed the Rimyongsu defenders and landed at the feet of the on-rushing Muhadov who lifted his shot over the flying Ju and into the bottom right-hand corner.

Just after the hour-mark, Ri Chol-myong then went close to reducing the deficit with a brave header after he challenged Astanov for a high ball, but his headed effort wafted narrowly wide.

And with just four minutes of the tie remaining, Ri Kwang-hyok ensured a frenetic finish as he stabbed home from close-range after a capitalising on a misdirected header by FC HTTU defender Shohrat Soyunov.

However, FC HTTU were able to keep their composure and claim the title their performance had largely deserved, as the final whistle blew to the shrieks of delight from the Turkmen players with an emotional and jubilant Meredov dropping to his knees in celebration.