NAGOYA, Japan (AFP) - Two-time champions Al Ittihad moved within a match of regaining their AFC Champions League title on Wednesday when they defeated Japan's Nagoya Grampus 2-1 in the semi-finals.
The Saudi giants, who won the tournament in 2004 and 2005, built on their emphatic 6-2 first leg victory for an 8-3 aggregate win with Saleh Al-Saqri and Amine Chermiti finding the target.
In the final on November 7 in Tokyo, they will play South Korea's Pohang Steelers, after they beat Qatari minnows Umm-Salal 2-1 in Doha, 4-1 on aggregate.
"We won both home and away games against a strong Japanese team," said Al Ittihad's Argentine coach Gabriel Calderon.
"We proved that we deserve to reach the final. It was a game that exactly went as we had planned and my players were ready to do it. Now, we will go and try to win the championship, of course," he added.
Knowing they needed at least four goals to go through, Nagoya started the game with three forwards, including Australian international Josh Kennedy and Keiji Tamada.
They held the initiative early on with Kennedy's header in the 33rd minute hitting the bar, while Tamada had a chance soon after.
But the Saudis soon got in the game and took the lead when Nagoya goalkeeper Toru Hasegawa failed to collect a shot and defender Al-Saqri pounced on the loose ball to fire a close-range goal three minutes before half-time.
They doubled their lead on 59 minutes when skipper Mohammed Noor, who scored a hat-trick in the first leg, sent a pin-point pass through to Chermiti who comfortably headed home.
Despite facing an impossible task, Nagoya didn't give up and their efforts finally paid dividends when substitute Keita Sugimoto unleashed a spectacular overhead shot, which flashed past Saudi goalkeeper Mobrouk Zayed.
That completed the scoring, leaving the home crowd disappointed and Al Ittihad looking forward to yet another final.
Nagoya's Serbian coach Dragan Stojkovic admitted the best side won.
"Unfortunately we lost but in football you have to create a chance to score. We didn't score enough, we didn't take our chances, and after the mistakes, we lost the game," he said.
"But I'm very satisfied with the behaviour of my players. To be in the best four, it's really a good result, and the semi-finals, we lost in the first leg, not today. We lost in Jeddah 6-2.
"Al Ittihad were a better team. Congratulations."
Umm Salal put up a plucky performance against Pohang, but in the end the Koreans were more savvy and too powerful for the Qataris.
After a goalless first half, striker Stevo put Pohang ahead in the 55th minute and four minutes later No Byung-Jun made it 2-0 ending the Qatari side's dream run in the competition.
Ibrahima Nadiya gave some consolation to Umm Salal with a goal deep into injury time.
Pohang looked more dangerous after the break and went 1-0 up in the 55th minute. Midfielder Kim Jae-sung after tapping a pass from deep midfield, put Stevo Ristic through and the Slovenia striker beat Umm Salal goalkeeper Baba Malick with a low right footed finish.
In the 59th minute, No Byung-Jun, after gathering a loose ball on the left, slipped past a couple of defenders before slotting home to make it 2-0 for the visitors.
Umm Salal tried hard to breach Pohang defence but poor understanding between their strikers remained their undoing as Nadiya wasted another opportunity, lifting the ball on the rebound of a freekick in the 62nd minute.
Davi then went close to scoring in the 75th minute but was denied by the post.
After wasting several chances, Umm Salal's tireless effort eventually bore fruit deep into injury time when Nadiya drilled home a freekick from 20 yards to narrow the deficit to 2-1.
|Coach: D. Stojković|
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