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Persepolis, Ulsan Hyundai set for thrilling AFC Champions League final


Doha: The 2020 AFC Champions League culminates on Saturday with the showpiece final at Al Janoub Stadium pitting Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis FC against Korea Republic’s Ulsan Hyundai FC.

Eleven months and five days since Bahrain’s Riffa SC beat Chennai City of India 1-0 in the first preliminary round, it is down to two iconic sides and one clash that will determine the winners of the 18th edition of the AFC Champions League.

Both Persepolis and Ulsan Hyundai are appearing in their second final, with the Koreans having defeated Al Ahli Saudi FC to win the 2012 title and Persepolis having lost the 2018 final to Japan’s Kashima Antlers.

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Under the guidance of former defender Yahya Golmohammadi, Persepolis recovered from losing their first game of the campaign to top Group C, then continued their march to the final.

Should they win the title, they would become the first to do so after losing their opening match since Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014.

#ACL2020 Road to Final: Persepolis FC (IRN)

Golmohammadi said while he respected Ulsan Hyundai, his team's only objective is to win the title.

“It is a difficult final match that is extremely important for both teams. Both teams put in a lot of effort and went through difficult days to reach here, so both teams are here on merit and I expect one of the most exciting matches in Asian football," said Golmohammadi.

"Ulsan Hyundai are a very good team, and they are fighters just like us. We are Persepolis and we have one objective which is to win the AFC Champions League. I promise Persepolis fans that we will fight from start to finish and give everything to bring the trophy home and bring joy to our fans.”

Meanwhile, Ulsan Hyundai are eyeing an improvement on a record they already own, having been the last team to win the AFC Champions League without losing a single match.

Back in 2012 they drew two matches out of 12, but with one match to go in the current edition, the Ulsan-based side would lift the trophy with 10 wins and one draw should they overcome Persepolis without needing penalty shootouts.

#ACL2020 Road to Final: Ulsan Hyundai FC

Head coach Kim Do-hoon said Ulsan Hyundai are well prepared for the final.

“I am really proud of the fact we came here to Qatar and fought all the way until the final. We face a great team tomorrow. We played very well so far and we want to do everything tomorrow to win the title," said Kim.

"We had a good period to recover after the semi-final, all the players enjoyed training and we prepared very well. We analysed Persepolis; they are an organised team with stamina and are physical team and very powerful on the pitch. It is important to start focused and this is our last game so we need to not feel the pressure and enjoy our game.”

The 2020 AFC Champions League final is the second between sides from Korea Republic and Islamic Republic of Iran.

A decade earlier, Zobahan FC faced Seongnam Chunma Ilhwa at the National Stadium in Tokyo, coincidentally, the last final to be played in a neutral venue. Back then it was the Koreans who emerged 3-1 winners.

Out of 14 players who made an appearance across the two legs of the 2018 AFC Champions League final, only six remain at Persepolis; Captain Seyed Jalal Hosseini played all 180 minutes then and is set to lead them out at Al Janoub Stadium.

Iraqi playmaker Bashar Resan, vice-captain Ahmad Nourollahi and versatile midfielder Kamal Kamyabinia remain key members of the starting XI, while Siamak Nemati and Mohammad Ansari remain at the club too.

On the other side, eight years on from their triumphant appearance in the 2012 final, veteran striker Lee Keun-ho is the one player who returns to the final in Ulsan Hyundai colours, having represented five different clubs before returning to the Ulsan-based club.

The 35-year-old played the 90 minutes in the 2012 final but has been limited to three starts this campaign and four further appearances from the bench.

With current top scorer Abderazzak Hamdallah ending his campaign with Al Nassr on seven goals, there could be an opportunity for Ulsan Hyundai pair Bjorn Johnsen (pictured above) and Junior Negrao to catch up, both forwards are on five goals each.

But if either of them is to make the top scorer award solely his, he would have to achieve the unprecedented feat of scoring an AFC Champions League final hat-trick.

Finally, the 2020 final will see Ulsan Hyundai head coach Kim become the first person to play and manage in an AFC Champions League final, having been among Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma’s goal scorers in the 2005 AFC Champions League final first leg which they won 3-1 against Al Ittihad before losing the second leg 5-0.

On the other hand, Persepolis’ Bashar Resan could be the first player to win both the AFC Cup and AFC Champions League, having won the former with his hometown club Air Force Club in 2016 before swapping Baghdad for Tehran the following summer.


Persepolis FC (IRN) v Ulsan Hyundai FC (Korea)
Venue: Al Janoub Stadium
Kick-off: Saturday, 15:00 (UTC+3)

*Poll ends at 19:00 (UTC+8) on December 19.

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