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AFC Champions League Final: Defensive Shields

Doha: The waiting for the 2020 AFC Champions League final is almost over as Persepolis FC and Ulsan Hyundai FC get set to take centre stage in Saturday's final at Al Janoub Stadium.

Both sides have produced remarkable runs since the Continental competition resumed in Qatar with Ulsan winning all eight of their games to progress to their first final since winning the competition in 2012, and Persepolis coming out on top in seven of their eight matches to return to the showpiece event for the second time in three years.

Now, as the countdown continues to Asia's biggest club fixture of the year, takes a statistical look at the key players from each side, starting with those in the heart of defence.

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Hossein Kanaani – Persepolis

After starting his professional career at Persepolis and then departing for game time elsewhere, Hossein Kanaani rejoined his boyhood team in 2019 as a long-term replacement for club legend and skipper Seyed Jalal Hosseini.

Indeed, for the majority of the 2020 AFC Champions League he had been selected ahead of the captain as the partner for Shojae Khalilzadeh - who has left the team - in the centre of defence.

The 26-year-old made a place in the team his own after a number of outstanding performances in a side that have not conceded from open play since the tournament resumed in Qatar, keeping a tournament high five clean sheets along the way.

He also held his nerve to score from in the shootout victory over Al Nassr in the semi-finals.

But it is at the back where Kanaani earns his keep and he has won more than half of the duels, aerials and tackles that he has contested. Only Khalilzadeh had made more than his 24 clearances and five blocks as the defender has performed his duties with aplomb.

Kanaani has also shown his capabilities going forward, with lovely threaded throughball for right-back Siamak Nemati in the build up to his side's opener in the quarter-final victory over Pakhtakor.

Ironically, after the departure of Khalilzadeh since the semi-final, the man Kanaani was brought in to replace could well play alongside him in the heart of the defence.

Whether or not Kanaani has Hosseini by his side, though, he will likely have his hands full with Ulsan's prolific Brazilian striker Junior Negrao.

Dave Bulthuis – Ulsan Hyundai

Used sparingly during the group stage as Kim Do-hoon rotated his starting line-up, Dave Bulthuis has played every minute of every game since the knockout rounds kicked off. The centre-back is now aiming to become the first Dutchman to ever win the AFC Champions League.

Deployed on the left of a central defensive pairing that also includes Kim Kee-hee, the 30-year-old has been part of a backline that has conceded just twice in three knockout round games and has proved equally as important as the Horangi's lethal forward players.

In the six games Bulthuis has played he has looked dominant both on the ground and in the air, winning 24 of 37 duels, 11 of 18 aerials and four of seven tackles.

No other player who has made the final has made more than Bulthuis' 17 interceptions while, unsurprisingly given his Dutch roots, the defender has proved adept with the ball, posting an 86% passing accuracy.

Up against a Persepolis side who will likely test the Ulsan backline in the air, Bulthuis will have to be at his best as he aims to make up for the disappointments of losing the 2019 and 2020 K League 1 titles and be crowned a Continental champion.

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

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