All-action Kuala Lumpur City threaten to smash-and-grab their way further in AFC Cup 2022

Paulo Josue produced a sublime goal and assist to inspire Kuala Lumpur City to a 3-1 win over ATK Mohun Bagan in the AFC Cup 2022 inter-zone semifinals on Wednesday. Asian Football Confederation

As with most performers gracing a bigger stage for the first time, Kuala Lumpur City's AFC Cup debut began on a tentative note.

Yet, as they continue to march on in the tournament, each stanza is growing to a crescendo.

Last month, the Malaysian Super League outfit recorded a dramatic 3-1 win over India's ATK Mohun Bagan in the inter-zone semifinals, moving two steps away from the big prize.

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After Paulo Josue's stunning 60th-minute strike for KL City had been cancelled out in the final minute by Fardin Ali Molla, it initially looked like extra-time -- and potentially penalties -- were on the cards.

Rather than be deflated, the City Boys proceeded to score again -- not once, but twice -- in injury-time to seal a stunning victory and a place in the inter-zone final against Uzbekistan's Sogdiana Jizzakh on Oct. 5.

Having started their journey meekly, netting just twice in their first three games as they toiled their way through the group stage and zonal semifinals, KL City have now emerged as an electrifying force after racking up eight goals -- coupled with their 5-2 ASEAN Zone final triumph over PSM Makassar -- in their two most recent AFC Cup outings.

There is of course room for improvement, especially with tougher tests lying ahead.

Sogdiana should head into next month's inter-zone final as favourites. Even if Bojan Hodak's charges get past the Uzbek outfit, they will most certainly be underdogs in the decider against fellow debutants Al Seeb of Oman, given the West Asia zone's historical dominance of Asia's second-tier club competition.

Against Mohun Bagan last time out, KL City scored with all three shots they had on target, somehow claiming the victory despite only having 21.9% of possession.

It is a trend that is highly unsustainable yet it is also not beyond the all-action City Boys to be able to rack up more smash-and-grab wins -- or at least a couple more -- to go all the way.

The main thing they have going for them is their sheer dare and belief.

In the ASEAN Zone final against PSM, KL City never stopped pushing forward even after their 3-2 lead had been reduced to a solitary goal following a brief fightback by the Indonesians.

Likewise, after Mohun Bagan equalised in the 90th minute, KL City could have accepted their fate and been content to play out extra-time. Instead, rather than wind down the clock from a freekick on the right in the second minute of injury-time, they opted to send the ball into the area for Fakrul Aiman Sidid to head them back into the lead.

And then, having just cleared their lines from a corner, Romel Morales proceeded to press the opposition right outside their own box when he could easily have sat back, forcing an error from Subhasish Bose that he capitalised on to make it 3-1.

It also helps that the City Boys are brimming with individual quality.

Against Mohun Bagan, it was Josue who shone the brightest with his wand of a left foot producing an outrageous 25-yard swerving opener, as well as a peach of a delivery for Fakrul to make it 2-1.

On another day, it could easily have been Morales, Jordan Mintah, or even one of the local contingent in J. Partiban and Zhafri Yahya, to provide such moments of inspiration.

For first-time performers on the AFC Cup stage, KL City have already put on quite a show.

After all, since the introduction of the zonal format in the AFC Cup back in 2017, only once previously has a Southeast Asian team reached this far -- Hanoi FC back in 2019 (although another Malaysian side in Johor Darul Ta'zim did win the competition in the previous format back in 2015).

But as they play on and on, the confidence is growing and the sound they are making is getting louder.

For a fearless, exciting KL City outfit, their next one or two stanzas of their AFC Cup debut could yet be the most deafening.