December 21 – South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai defeated Iran’s Persepolis 2-1, coming from behind, to win the Asian Champions League for a second time, wrapping up an edition that was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic before Qatar stepped in to stage matches from the east and west zone as well as the competition’s knockout phase.
Two goals from Brazilian striker Junior Negrao delivered the continental crown for the South Koreans, who fell behind to a goal from Mehdi Abdi following a defensive mistake from Park Joo-ho. But the Iranians went on to self-destruct, conceding two penalties that could have easily been avoided.
Just before the break Yoon Bit-garam, who hit the post in the ninth minute, was brought down in the area by Ahmad Nourollahi and Junior Negrao needed a rebound to level the score after Persepolis goalkeeper Hamed Lak saved his spot kick.
But he didn’t fail a second time around from the penalty spot. Eight minutes after the restart Mehdi Shiri was penalized for handing the ball inside the penalty area and the Brazilian stepped up without hesitation to score his seventh goal of the tournament.
The Iranians, who were without their star striker Issa Al Katheer suspended for racist behaviour, didn’t muster much of a reply, but had a penalty claim waved away by the referee five minutes from time.
It is the second time Ulsan have won the continent’s premier club competition. They defeated Al Hilal 3-0 in the 2012 final. “We have worked so hard in the past month or so and I want to thank the players,” said Ulsan coach Kim Do-hoon. “The final was tough against a very good team but we are delighted … to be champion of Asia.”
Iran’s long wait for a continental champion continues. PAS Tehran was the last Iranian club to win the Champions League back in 1993 when they defeated Al Shabab from Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final.
The Koreans will go on to represent Asia at the Club World Cup in February in Doha, marking another major tournament the 2022 World Cup hosts will organise. Earlier this year the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic caused the Champions League to be suspended from March to September, but Qatar stepped in to host the west zone matches across four stadiums in the Qatari capital before the AFC, in a strong show of confidence, also handed Qatar the hosting rights for the east zone. The hosts created a bio-secure bubble and delivered a competition that included technical arrangements like the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), medical requirements and commercial obligations.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1611420722labto1611420722ofdlr1611420722owedi1611420722sni@o1611420722fni1611420722