- Ten-game unbeaten streak takes Ulsan to Asia’s roof
- South Koreans to play second FIFA Club World Cup
- Yoon Bitgaram, Andrés Iniesta and Abdi Mehdi Qara shone throughout the campaign
Ulsan set Al Wakrah on fire on Saturday. The South Koreans won 2-1 over Persepolis in the AFC Champions League final, after a brace from Junior Negrao in the space of ten crazy minutes. At the same time, they won their ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup scheduled in Qatar next February.
The campaign was postponed after only two days in March due to COVID-19. When it resumed in September, all matches were played in Qatar to the delight of the fans.
The road to Qatar 2020
Ulsan made a sluggish entry in February, which ended in a 1-1 draw due to a goal against his side FC Tokyo. Kim Dohoon’s men showed a whole new face when competition resumed in the East Zone in November. They won the remaining five matches to take the lead, defeating Melbourne Victory 3-0 in the round of 16 before defeating Beijing Guoan 2-0 in the quarterfinals. The semi-final saw them come back up to defeat Vissel Kobe 2-1, followed by a second comeback and to cap the Asian crown at the expense of Persepolis.
First match with spectators
Since the resumption of competition in mid-September, all matches have been centralized and played behind closed doors. However, an attendance of 30% having been authorized in the final, the fans returned to the stands. FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his AFC counterpart Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa were notably present.
Second title for Lee
Substituted in the 72nd minute, Ulsan captain Lee Keunho did everything possible to help his side contain the opposing attacks and seal the 2-1 victory. Eight years earlier, the 35-year-old striker had been voted best player of the 2012 campaign, in which Ulsan won his first continental title. In the process, he was named AFC Player of the Year.
Another failure on the Persepolis thread
Kneeling, head on the ground, Persepolis goalkeeper Hamed Lak prayed for the success of his team’s ultimate attack to equalize. The miracle did not happen and Persepolis again came within a hair’s breadth of its first AFC Champions League coronation, after being defeated by Kashima Antlers in the 2018 final.
The magician Iniesta
At 36, Andrés Iniesta has proven that he hasn’t lost any of his exceptional ball touch. A master at playing and driving force behind Japanese club Vissel Kobe since 2018, he scored two goals during the campaign and notably opened the scoring in the victory over Shanghai SIPG in the round of 16.
The players in sight
Best player of the tournament, Yoon Bitgaram has established himself as a pillar of midfield throughout Ulsan’s course. The 30-year-old South Korean designer scored two braces, served four assists and secured a penalty against Persepolis in the first half, which paved the way for the equalizer by Junior Negrao.
The latter was voted the competition’s top scorer, along with Al Nassr player Abderrazak Hamdallah (seven goals). The 33-year-old former Corinthians forward was particularly brilliant during the knockout stage, where he scored five goals, including two in the final.
At 22, Abdi Mehdi Qara was the revelation of the second round. Author of the equalizer against Al-Nassr in the semi-final, the center-forward of Persepolis opened the scoring against Ulsan. It remains to be seen whether his predatory instinct will earn him his first call by IR Iran coach Dragan Skocic.
Did you know ?
Ulsan lost 1-3 to Monterrey on his FIFA Club World Cup debut in Japan 2012. His only goal is the work of Lee Keunho. Home side Sanfrecce Hiroshima then defeated the South Koreans 3-2 in the fifth place game.