FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan gives you the lowdown on 4.25 SC, the North Korean team standing in the way of Home United and a place in the AFC Cup inter-zone final.
So, after ten gruelling games over six months, Singapore’s Home United were crowned the AFC Cup’s ASEAN Zone champions earlier this month after beating Philippine champions Ceres-Negros 3-1 on aggregate in the final.
However, in the grand scheme of things, Home are only halfway through their journey with a bigger prize still on offer: becoming champions of the AFC Cup proper.
After proving themselves against the best of Southeast Asia, the Protectors will now be tested by the rest of Asia starting with 4.25 SC of DPR Korea, who booked their place in the inter-zone semi-finals by finishing top of East Asia’s Group I.
Considering they may not be familiar to many, FOX Sports Asia brings you all you need to know about 4.25 SC.
Who exactly are 4.25 SC?
4.25 SC – or April 25 Sports Club – were founded as early as 1949 and are affiliated with the Korean People’s Army.
The Pyongyang-based team are the most successful side in the DPR Korea Premier Football League with 17 titles to their name, 11 more than the next closest challengers.
In the years before the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup came into existence, 4.25 SC regularly featured in the Asian Club Championship and their best result was a third-place finish in 1991, when they were eliminated in the semi-finals but beat Indonesia’s Pelita Jaya (now Madura United) on penalties in the playoff.
Do they have a good record in the AFC Cup?
Since the AFC Cup introduced zonal segregation at the start of last year, 4.25 SC have now twice emerged as champions of East Asia.
Of course, their cause has been helped by the fact that teams from Japan, Korea Republic and China only participate in the Champions League and AFC Cup, meaning they have had to contend with teams from Chinese Taipei, Macau, Mongolia and their North Korean compatriots.
Still, they produced some dominant displays this season to finish top of Group with six wins from six, notching 23 goals in the process and conceding just twice.
How far did they go in the AFC Cup last season?
4.25 SC also reached the inter-zone semi-finals in 2017 but that was as far as they went, as they were beaten 3-0 on aggregate by Indian giants Bengaluru FC.
It was always going to be an uphill task for the North Koreans from the moment they were beaten 3-0 in the first leg in Bangalore, falling to goals from Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Lenny Rodrigues.
4.25 SC did manage to produce a better showing in the return encounter as they held Bengaluru to a 0-0 draw at the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, salvaging some pride along the way.
Would I know any of their players?
Not unless you follow North Korean football closely, but that does not mean they will not have enough firepower to trouble Home.
4.25 SC have plenty of DPR Korea internationals in their ranks, including midfielder An Il-bom and forward Kim Yu-song.
An has experience playing in Serbia with Radnicki 1923 and will be a key driving force in the engine room, although they will sorely miss Kim – who was the AFC Cup’s top scorer last season – as he is currently on international duty at the Asian Games.
And, regardless of who wins, what happens next for either side?
The winner of this tie will then progress to the inter-zone final, where they will face the victor of the other semi-final between Bengaluru and Turkmenistan’s Altyn Asyr.
Bengaluru have no shortage of experience in the tournament having been runners-up in 2016, in addition to their inter-zone final appearance last year.
But it is Altyn Asyr who have emerged as the surprise package in 2018, as they finished a point ahead of Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol – last year’s runners-up – in Group D to become champions of Central Asia.
The winner of the inter-zone final will then advance to the actual final, where either defending champions Air Force Club or Jordan’s Al Jazeera, who will contest the West Asia final on September 18 and October 2, will lie in wait.