South Korea’s Pohang Steelers were crowned kings of Asia on Saturday after a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad in the Asian Champions League final in Tokyo.
Pohang’s continental triumph was its first since the tournament was revamped in 2002. The K-League side won the ACL’s forerunner — the Asian Club Championship — in 1997 and 1998.
“It was a very difficult match but we were able to find a way through from our set pieces,” said Steelers manager Sergio Farias.
Al Ittihad had slightly the better of a tight first half at National Stadium, but Pohang broke the deadlock on 57 minutes through No Byung Jun’s free kick, and the South Koreans doubled the lead nine minutes later, Kim Hyung Il heading home from another set piece.
Two-time champion Al Ittihad, which ended Japanese interest in the competition with an 8-3 aggregate win over Nagoya Grampus in the semifinals, reduced the arrears when inspirational skipper Mohammed Noor fired home from close range with 16 minutes left.
Al Ittihad’s Hitcham Aboucherouane went close to equalizing with a free kick in stoppage time but Pohang held firm to earn $1.5 million in prize money and a spot at the lucrative Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi next month.
“We were unable to make the most of our chances and it is a shame that we conceded the way we did from set pieces,” said Al Ittihad manager Gabriel Calderon.
“We couldn’t play our usual brand of soccer but I am satisfied with the effort the players put in.”
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