History-making Kuala Lumpur City one final step away from AFC Cup glory

Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur City booked their place in the decider of AFC Cup 2022 -- in their tournament debut -- with a 5-3 penalty shootout win over Uzbek outfit Sogdiana Jizzakh following a 0-0 draw in the inter-zone final. Asian Football Confederation

Whatever happens from here, Kuala Lumpur City will always have a dream AFC Cup debut to look back on in 2022.

Nonetheless, what originally seemed a mere fantasy is now just one final step from becoming reality.

On Wednesday evening, following 120 gruelling minutes that ultimately ended in a 0-0 draw, it was KL City who -- in hostile away conditions in Uzbekistan and despite having enjoyed just 37.1% of possession -- prevailed over Sogdiana Jizzakh 5-3 on penalties in the inter-zone final to advance to the decider.

In their maiden appearance in Asia's second tier club competition, KL City are now just one win away from going all the way.

And regardless of what happens in the final on Oct. 22 against fellow tournament debutants Al Seeb of Oman, the Malaysia Super League outfit have already written their names in the history books.

Since the AFC Cup adopted zonal segregation back in 2017, the City Boys had already -- prior to Wednesday's triumph over Sogdiana -- matched Hanoi FC by becoming only the second ASEAN Zone representatives to advance as far as the inter-zone final.

They have now gone one better after becoming the first Southeast Asian club to reach the final proper since the latest format of the tournament was introduced five years ago.

Of course, one piece of history that KL City will not be able to lay claim to is being the first Malaysian team to win the competition, with Johor Darul Ta'zim having done so previously in 2015.

Even then, JDT's triumph does come with a disclaimer.

Having lost 3-1 to Al Qadsia in the first leg of the semifinals, the odds were stacked firmly against the Southern Tigers until the Kuwait Football Association were abruptly suspended by FIFA before the return encounter.

This ruling meant the disqualification of Al Qadsia, as well as compatriots Kuwait SC from the other last-four tie, paving the way for JDT to fortuitously march on into the final -- where they would ultimately claim a 1-0 triumph over Tajikistan's Istiklol.

While that should take little away from JDT's success, KL City have not had such a helping hand.

They have had to negotiate their way past each and every test on their own merit and, while it has not always been pretty, they have passed with flying colours.

The City Boys have not only shown an ability to turn on the style, especially on the counterattack, with an array of attacking talent capable of producing a match-winning turn.

It was Romel Morales who inspired their triumph over PSM Makassar in the ASEAN Zone final, followed up by Paulo Josue's brilliant individual display when they beat ATK Mohun Bagan in the inter-zone semifinal.

Yet, KL City have also got this far through sheer grit and a refusal to yield in defence, as they showed against both Mohun Bagan and Sogdiana -- games in which they found themselves under severe pressure yet were ultimately able to hold out.

Although Al Seeb are also making their maiden appearance in the competition, they are likely to head into the final as favourites given West Asia's historical dominance has seen them produce 15 of the 17 previous AFC Cup champions.

KL City will need to draw on the same determination to ensure they have a chance of winning, and then hope one of their aces in the pack can actually win it for them.

History has already been made by KL City.

But they could yet cover themselves in the ultimate glory that the AFC Cup has to offer.