TOKYO (AFP) - South Korea's Pohang Steelers shocked two-time champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia 2-1 to capture the AFC Champions League title at Tokyo's National Stadium on Saturday.
After a scoreless first half, the opening goal was scored by forward No Byung-Jun, who netted from a free kick 25 yards out in the 57th minute after the team's top scorer, Brazilian Denilson, was fouled.
The Koreans doubled their lead just eight minutes later from another set piece. Midfielder Kim Jae-Sung played the ball into the box from the right and defender Kim Hyung-Il headed in to leave the Saudi giants with an uphill task.
Although Al Ittihad clawed a goal back through Mohammed Noor with just 16 minutes to go they could not find an equaliser, with Morocco midfielder Hicham Aboucherouane's free kick flashing wide in injury time.
The title was Pohang's third continental triumph following their victories in the former Asian Club Championship in 1997 and 1998, meaning they become the most successful team in Asian football history.
"It was a final between two excellent teams. The result of 2-1 shows it very well," said Pohang's Brazilian coach Sergio Farias.
"Korean football has a lot more room to improve further. I hope this victory paves the way for that."
In the first half the momentum switched several times, with midfielder Shin Hyung-Min failing to connect cleanly with a shot from distance and Macedonian striker Stevica Ristic forcing the Saudi goalkeeper into a save.
Both sides were guilty of missing several more chances to open the scoring before Al Ittihad skipper Noor was brought down by Shin Hyung-Min just outside the area as half-time approached, with Shin booked as a result.
Pohang's victory gives them a berth in next month's FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, which also includes the likes of European champions Barcelona.
"It was really a difficult match. The level of their technique is really high and they shut out our attacks," said Farias.
"We adjusted it at half time and regained control," he said, adding that his side were able to break through from a set play, which he regarded as Al Ittihad's vulnerable point.
Farias said before the Club World Cup his team had the K-League play-offs following their second-placed finish in the league.
"We are going to aim for our second league victory. We know what we must do in our preparation for the Club World Cup," he said.
Al Ittihad's Argentine coach Gabriel Calderon admitted that Pohang's ability to take their chances decided the game.
"We did our very best, but your hard work does not always end with a goal. I'm disappointed," said Calderon.
"We created many chances, at least six chances, but it never ended with a goal. On the other side, they took their chances on a set play. But we played a high-quality game. We couldn't win today, but I'm satisfied with our performance," he added.
Al Ittihad, AFC Champions League winners in 2004 and 2005, won the 2008-2009 Saudi Pro League.
|Hamad Al Montashari|
|Saleh Al Saqri|
|Obaid Al Shamrani|
|Mohammed Noor||50' 74'|
|Coach: G. Calderón|
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