South Korea’s Pohang Steelers will attempt to add another major title to their trophy case when they meet Saudi champions Al Ittihad in Saturday’s Asian Champions League final.
Pohang’s Brazilian coach Sergio Farias, since joining the club in 2005, has guided the Steelers to a K-League title in 2007, a Korean F.A. Cup in 2008 and this year’s League Cup.
“Every team wants to be the champions in any event they compete in, but we really want to be the best team in Asia,” said Farias, whose side has also qualified for the final stages of this year’s K-League playoffs.
“Last year, we played in the AFC Champions League for the first time and didn’t get past the group stage, but our players have grown up since then and gained experience.”
The final will be played at Tokyo’s National Stadium, a ground that holds some significance for Al Ittihad coach Gabriel Calderon of Argentina. Calderon’s last visit was in 1979, when he lined up with Diego Maradona to win the final of the under-20 World Cup.
“It was 30 years ago and this is my first time in Tokyo since then, so I would like to repeat that success in the AFC Champions League final. So far, I have a 100 percent record at the National Stadium,” said Calderon, who graduated to represent Argentina at the 1982 and 1990 World Cup tournaments.
Calderon says Al Ittihad has an advantage over Pohang — Saturday’s lineup including several veterans of the 2004 and 2005 Champions League-winning teams, as well as the side that reached the 2005 FIFA Club World Cup semifinals at National Stadium.
Captain Mohammed Noor, midfielders Saudi Khariri and Manaf Aboshgair, center backs Redha Takar and Hamad Al Montashari, and goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid remain from the side that beat African champions Al Ahly in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Sao Paolo.
“It’s great that we have so many top players that have played in the AFC Champions League final before, as they know what it’s all about,” Calderon said. “It’s very important to have players with experience and the experience of winning.”
Lanky Macedonia international Stevica Ristik will add firepower to a Pohang side that will feature three players up front in Tokyo.
“Ristik is likely to play. Al Ittihad know us. Our formation and our lineup is not a secret,” Farias said. “We’ve used basically the same lineup for the past three AFC Champions League matches, although we may have small changes.”
Brazilian striker Denilson, Pohang’s top scorer this Champions League campaign with seven goals, knows Ittihad and Saudi soccer well after spending six seasons with three clubs in neighboring United Arab Emirates up until 2005.
“I know Ittihad well by reputation and I’ve seen them play many times,” said Denilson. “They’re a very experienced side with many Saudi internationals.”
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