The AFC Champions League has become the hottest club event in Asia, with teams battling for not only a prestigious trophy but also a place at the FIFA Club World Cup. Few know, however, that the continent’s most sought-after silverware was first won by a European team, with Israel's Hapoel Tel Aviv beating Malaysian giants Selangor 2-1 45 years ago to this Wednesday.
That was, indeed, one of a series of achievements the Middle East country had made during their two decades as a AFC member from 1954-74. The Israelis stormed into the final in the first two AFC Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960, before going on to lift the trophy in 1964.
On the back of those feats at international level, it was natural that they aimed to translate the hegemony on to the club stage when the Asian Champion Club Tournament – a precursor to the AFC Champions League – was formed. Representing Israel were none other than Hapoel, the country's vintage club who earned their qualification by edging city rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv for their 7th Liga Leumit title in the 1965/66 season.
While today's AFC Champions League features as many as 32 sides, its first installment was contested by only six teams. And Hapoel made it to the final in unexpected fashion, receiving byes all the way following withdrawals of the Indian and Iranian representatives.
Selangor, for their part, swept past Quan Thue and Bangkok Bank to reach the last four, where they saw off Tungsten Mining of Korea Republic with striking great Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Minhat scoring the only goal.
The campaign-hardened Malaysians were, understandably, the favourites against an Israeli side that had been inactive for eight months since their short domestic season ended. And the script began being followed as Aslim fired Selangor ahead on 50 minutes. It was Hapoel who emerged as champions, however, with a 70th-minute Danny Bursuk equaliser preceding Yaakov Rachminovich’s winner from the spot.