Hosts Ulsan Hyundai showed visiting Al Ahli no mercy in Saturday's AFC Champions League final, rounding off their undefeated campaign with a 3-0 win which sealed their maiden continental title and thus the right to represent Asia at December's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
The triumph extended Korea Republic's dominance on the Asian scene, with Ulsan the fourth K-League side to have their name carved on the coveted trophy following compatriots Jeonbuk Motors’ continental conquest in the 2006 edition and Pohang Steelers and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma’s back-to-back successes in 2009 and 2010.
Hosts start quickly
Entering the home match buoyed by their eight-match winning streak, coach Kim Hogon's hosts expectedly got off to an explosive start. Forward Lee Keunho earned their first free-kick after two minutes, before Kwak Taehwi surged into the area only to miss a chipped pass.
The in-form defender was again left rueful on ten minutes when he saw a header bounce just over. However, the Korea Republic and Ulsan captain atoned for the near-miss three minutes later, outjumping the entire defensive line to head the hosts in front and lift the 40,000-strong home crowd at Ulsan Munsu Stadium to their feet.
The conceded goal sparked coach Karel Jarolim’s visitors into action as they began to hit on the break in desperate search for the equaliser. But they relied too much on individual efforts from top striker Victor Simoes, who produced their first shot on goal after half an hour when he forced Kim Youngkwang into a fine save with a free-kick.
The hosts continued to heap pressure on the Saudi side, with Colombian midfielder Julian Estiven Velez twice testing the goalkeeper with long-distance shots and towering forward Kim Shinwook flashing a header narrowly wide.
With Simoes closely marked, midfielder Moataz Al Musa provided Al Ahli with attacking sparks as the clock ticked towards the end of the first half.
Having seen an early effort fly over, the Saudi international caused havoc when he cut into the area, only to be denied by Ulsan ‘keeper Kim Youngkwang. Then on a counter-attack, he agonisingly pulled his effort over the crossbar as Ulsan held onto their 1-0 first-half lead.
Ulsan seal maiden title
The two sides picked up where they had left off after the restart, with Ulsan continuing to maraud while Al Ahli attempted to claw themselves back into contention.
The dynamic Keunho fired a powerful drive over, while at the other end Amad Al Hosni forced his way through into the area but Velez came to the rescue by heading the ball back to his ‘keeper.
The visitors' hopes of comeback, however, were shattered on 68 minutes when Rafinha doubled the lead with his seventh goal of the campaign. Kim Seungyong then put the icing on the cake 14 minutes from time, slotting home from Keunho's cross to make it 3-0.