After decades of slowly climbing up the divisions through hard work and determination, Al-Ahed FC has finally achieved what was once deemed impossible and became the first Lebanese football club to win a continental tournament.
Nicknamed The Yellow Castle, the Lebanese Al-Ahed Football Club is based in the Ouzai district of Beirut. Founded in 1964 as Al-Huda Islamic Club and later changed to its current name, the football club gradually ascended the divisions before reaching the Lebanese Premier League for the first time in 1996.
On Monday, November 4th, they played the final match of Asia's second-tier club tournament against the fierce North Korean team 4.25 SC (April 25 Sports Club) on the KLFA Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The game was initially planned to take place in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, but the location was changed to Shanghai, then to Malaysia for reasons related to broadcasting the game.
Al-Ahed were visibly dominant throughout the match. At its 74th minute, defensive midfielder Issa Yakubu scored the winner after an assist from Hussein Daqik. That goal was a historic moment that saw Lebanon claim its first AFC championship cup; a cup that Lebanese football fans had been anticipating for a long time.
The North Korean team's attacks were fairly weak, barely getting near the Lebanese side's goal. They dragged through the majority of the match with only 10 players after their goalkeeper An Tae Song received a red card midway through the first half (minute 26). He was sent off the game after tripping an Al-Ahed player on the edge of the box as he charged towards goal.
Al-Ahed is now the first Lebanese football club to win the Asian Football Confederation tournament since its inception in 2004. Many Lebanese teams had previously reached the finals of the AFC since 2005. After the torch was passed on to Al-Ahed, they claimed the title for all of Lebanon.
In addition to their latest AFC Cup title, the "Yellow Castle" has won seven league titles, six FA Cup titles, seven Super Cup titles, five Elite Cup titles, and one Federation Cup title.
While the majority of its players are Lebanese, 5 members of Al-Ahed are not, including Issa Yakubu who is a Ghanian citizen. The 4 remaining players are from Syria, Sweden, Tunisia, and Senegal.
Mahdi Khalil, the goalkeeper, was crowned AFC Cup's Most Valuable Player in 2019, which he said is a very difficult award to get as a goalkeeper. It's quite astonishing what the club has achieved considering the rough state that Lebanon has been in lately.
Football requires huge financial investments. In addition to money, Al-Ahed club's chairman Tamim Sleiman has invested a lot of time, energy, and effort into this outstanding team, and has played a critical role in getting Al-Ahed to where it is now.
Last month the World Cup Qualifier showdown between North and South Korea, which was organized on North Korean land, took place with no live broadcast and no foreign media in attendance.
Pyongyang allowed no fans or foreign media whatsoever to attend the match and prevented it from being broadcast live. FIFA president Gianni Infantino was one of just a few spectators present at the game.
Al-Ahed club's fan base also deserves credit for their loyalty to their team. Its fans grew from being only a few dozen to thousands as they are today. They have eagerly followed their favorite football club through its ups and downs, and have also done their part in the pursuit of this glorious achievement.
The members of Al-Ahed received a warm welcome from their fans in the capital after the team landed at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport on Tuesday. Fireworks were set off in many areas around Lebanon in celebration of the victory.