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Hisor: Air Force Club coach Hussam Al Sayed hailed his players’ mental strength after the defending AFC Cup champions retained their title following a 1-0 win over Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol in the final on Saturday.

The Iraqi side were the away team in the one-legged final at Hisor Central Stadium but were stronger throughout and missed a penalty early in the second half when Hammadi Ahmed’s effort was saved by Nikola Stosic.

But Emad Mohsin proved the hero in the 68th minute as his powerful left-foot effort found the back of the net and meant Air Force Club became the third team – after Jordan’s Al Faisaly and Kuwait SC – to win back-to-back AFC Cups.

“It was a difficult match in the opposition’s home,” said Syrian Al Sayed (pictured above, right), who is currently in his second spell in charge of the club after taking over in August.

“The penalty kick could have been the turning point, but the players were mentally strong and kept their concentration. I am very proud of my players.”

Air Force Club won the tournament at the first attempt last year, amassing 27 goals in just 12 games with captain Ahmed finishing as top scorer on 16, including the only goal in the final against India’s JSW Bengaluru.

It has been a different story this year, though, as the defence of their title had seen them score just 10 goals in 10 games prior to Saturday’s final.

But their success has been built on a solid backline, with the side conceding only five goals throughout the tournament as the victory over Istiklol became their seventh clean sheet in 11 games.

Yet another stubborn performance ended in the holders running out worthy winners as they also brought Istiklol’s perfect home record to an end and prevented them from scoring for the first time in the 2017 campaign.

“We got the most important thing which is the win and we have brought joy to the Iraqi people,” added Al Sayed.

“The whole competition was hard. It is difficult to win a trophy, but even more difficult to retain a title.”

Defender Ali Bahjat, meanwhile, was full of praise for his coach after he added a second AFC Cup medal to his collection following a fine display down on the left flank.

“First, I’d like to thank the fans who stood behind us throughout the competition,” said Bahjat.

“I’m grateful to the coach who worked hard to support us as players, and I also want to thank my teammates who worked hard despite the difficult circumstances.

“Our flight coming here was late but we managed to win our second title in a row, which is not an easy feat to achieve.”

Photos: Lagardère Sports