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5 Memorable AFC Champions League Finals

Kuala Lumpur: As excitement builds towards the 2020 AFC Champions League final between Persepolis FC and Ulsan Hyundai FC, highlights some of the showpiece event's finest games from years gone by. 

In 17 previous editions of the AFC Champions League final, fans of Asian football have seen world class players, fabulous goals, stunning comebacks and record-breaking achievements in a competition that has taken Asian football to the next level.

As the-AFC-com continues to look back on the finale of the Continent's biggest club competition, we take a trip down memory lane to bring you five of the most memorable finals since the tournament launched in 2002-03.

Don't forget to tell us which was your favourite AFC champions League final in the poll at the foot of the article.

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The Inaugural Showpiece: Al Ain vs BEC Tero Sasana
2002-03 AFC Champions League Final

The beginning of the story of the AFC Champions League final is the most appropriate place to start our review of some of the most iconic showpiece events, and what an occasion it was!

The first leg of the clash between Emirati club Al Ain and Thailand's BEC Tero Sasana took place at a packed Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium in the UAE's Garden City and the crowd was treated to a stunning Salem Johar goal to open the scoring from range. Mohammed Omar then added a second to give Al Ain the edge going into the return meeting Bangkok.

Rajamangala Stadium played host to the second leg a week later and it was another closely fought affair. Both goalkeepers put on impressive displays, with Pansa Meesatham in particular shining in the BEC Tero Sasana goal.

Thailand star Therdsak Chaiman, who would go on to be named the tournament's MVP, reduced the aggregate deficit by one with a penalty on the hour mark which led to a frenetic final 30 minutes but Al Ain were able to hold out and claim the fame of becoming the inaugural AFC Champions League winners.

Diamonds Shine Bright: Urawa Red Diamonds vs Sepahan
2007 AFC Champions League Final

While Japanese teams had been crowned champions of Asia previously, never before had one appeared in the AFC Champions League final, but that changed in 2007 when Urawa Red Diamonds advanced all the way.

A 1-1 draw with Sepahan in Isfahan following goals either side of the interval from Robson Ponte and Mahmoud Karimi set the stage perfectly for the return meeting at Saitama Stadium.

Robson Ponte scores in 2007 AFC Champions League final

Almost 60,000 fans greeted the sides at they walked up the steps onto the Saitama Stadium field. Midway through the first half they were brought to their feet, Yuichiro Nagai latching onto Ponte's deflected throughball and thumping home before reeling off in his now iconic finger-wagging celebration.

Urawa never looked like losing thereafter, and with just under 20 minutes to play Yuki Abe headed in from close range after Sepahan 'keeper Abbas Mohammadi could only parry Nagai's effort as the midfielder all but wrapped up the tie.

All that was left was for Keita Suzuki to lift the AFC Champions League trophy into the Saitama sky as Urawa's colourful support rejoiced at becoming the competition's first Japanese champions.

Penalty Shootout Drama: Al Sadd vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2011 AFC Champions League Final

When Al Ittihad lifted the AFC Champions League for the second time at the 2005 edition of the AFC Champions League it marked the third time in a row that teams from West Asia had been crowned Continental club kings.

Few would have imagined that it would take another six editions before this would happen again. Enter Al Sadd and the 2011 final.

The culmination of an epic campaign that started from the play-offs, Al Sadd went all the way to the final hurdle where they faced Korea Republic's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the Koreans' home ground in Jeonju.

Having played a marathon number of matches already it seemed only fitting that the Qataris' run to the title would go the full 120 minutes as after twice exchanging leads to finish 2-2, for the first time, the AFC Champions League entered extra-time and then penalties.

There it would prove to be Al Sadd keeper Mohammed Saqr who was the hero, denying Kim Dong-chan and Park Won-jae before Nadir Belhadj rifled home the winner and returned the AFC Champions League trophy to the West.

The Tigers Awake: Guangzhou Evergrande vs FC Seoul
2013 AFC Champions League Final

A new powerhouse had come to the fore in China PR in the second decade of the millennium as Guangzhou Evergrande wrapped up successive titles in 2011 and 2013. A quarter-final appearance in the 2012 AFC Champions League, meanwhile, was followed by a surge a year later.

Against FC Seoul in the first leg of the final, Guangzhou were greeted at Seoul World Cup Stadium with a tifo that read: Asia's No1, and the Koreans looked to be living up to that claim as Sergio Escudero fired them into an early lead.

The visitors had other ideas, though, and goals from Elkeson and Gao Lin put them in front before Montenegrin Dejan Damjanovic restored parity in the final 10 minutes to mean the sides headed to Guangdong all square.

Just as in Seoul, more than 55,000 packed the stands with Tianhe Stadium proving the perfect setting for a game that would create history for Chinese football.

Elkeson, now known as Ai Kesen, had been in exemplary form in the knockout rounds and he was the man to shine once more, running onto a Muriqui throughball to open the scoring just before the hour.

While Damjanovic levelled, Guangzhou were not to be denied, holding out to become the only side to win the AFC Champions League on away goals and, more importantly, the first Chinese team to lift the famous trophy.

100,000 In Attendance: Kashima Antlers vs Persepolis
2018 AFC Champions League Final

The 2018 edition of the tournament brought about some moments that will live long in the memory. Who can forget Alireza Beiranvand's seemingly impossible save to deny Xavi Hernandez in the semi-final or even Serginho scoring in four successive knockout round games that culminated in a late winner to secure a topsy-turvy 6-5 semi-final win over Suwon Samsung Bluewings?

That set the stage for IR Iran's Persepolis and Japan's Kashima Antlers to square off in the showpiece event. Perhaps more than any other final, the two legs showcased the diversity of fan culture in the world's biggest Continent as supporters of the sides packed Kashima Soccer Stadium and Azadi Stadium to provide a stunning backdrop to the action on the pitch.

A sea of red and and the customary flags Japanese support is famed for greeted the players as they entered the arena in Ibaraki, where goals from Brazilian duo Leo Silva and Serginho gave Kashima a 2-0 lead to take to Tehran.

A week later in the Iranian capital, a record-breaking 100,000 spectators turned up at the iconic Azadi Stadium to try and roar their heroes onto a first-ever AFC Champions League title as they offered up the most intimidating of atmospheres.

The singing and flag-waving from East Asia had been substituted for the din of vuvuzelas and, for Kashima's pocket of fans that had made the trip from Japan, it must have been an experience like no other.

But their heroes on the pitch held out, the hosts unable to break down a resolute defence as a game that promised so much ended in a scoreless stalemate and Kashima were crowned champions. For magnitude of the occasion though, this final was up there with the best.

Polls ends on Saturday, December 19 at 16:00 (UTC+8).

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