After a year full of surprises and drama, this year's AFC Champions League reaches a fitting conclusion with two unlikely finalists, Jeonbuk Motors of Korea Republic and Syrian's Al Karama, battling it out over two legs for the continent's most prestigious club prize.
At the outset of the competition, few could have believed that these two sides would ultimately be locked in a two-way fight for the title. Both, however, have thoroughly merited their places in the final, having swept past many illustrious names en route to setting up the most unexpected climax to an AFC Champions League campaign in the tournament's four-year history.
The match has certainly caught the imagination of football supporters in Asia, who will be tuning in en masse to see which of these dark horses comes out of the traps quickest in the Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Wednesday.
There are many differences between the two finalists, but what they have shared in common during their remarkable progress to the continental decider is a tremendous 'never-say-die' attitude.
Choi Kang-Hee's Jeonbuk are no strangers to this tournament, having stunned the inaugural winners Al Ain of United Arab Emirates en route to reaching the semi-finals in 2004, when they were only narrowly edged out by eventual champions Al Ittihad.
They have enjoyed an even more impressive campaign this time around, eliminating Chinese champions Dalian Shide and Gamba Osaka of Japan during the group phase before clawing back a two-goal deficit to dispatch another Chinese side, Shanghai Shenhua, in the quarter-finals. Jeonbuk's reputation as the tournament's comeback kings was further strengthened in the semi-final when they pulled off a 4-1 return victory to overturn a 3-2 opening leg loss and progress to the final in style.
However, when it comes to gritty and determined fighting spirit, the resilient Al Karama take some beating.
The Syrians only gained back-door entry to the AFC Champions League after finishing runners-up in the domestic league to double winners Al Ittihad in 2005. However, under coach Mohammed Kwid, they took the group stage by storm, brushing past UAE champions Al Wahda, Iran's Saba Battery and Qatari outfit Al Gharafa to reach the knockout stage in their debut campaign.
Kwid's charges then produced the biggest upset in the tournament's history as they saw off the defending champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia 4-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals. Kuwaiti giants Al Qadisiya fared little better in the last four, claiming a goalless away draw in the first leg only to be beaten by the Syrians in their own back yard thanks to Aatef Jenyat's memorable 15th-minute winner.
Rested and prepared
Western Asians have proved dominant in the AFC Champions League thus far, with Al Ain emerging the inaugural winners back in 2003 before Al Ittihad completed a back-to-back brace in 2004 and 2005.
This, in fact, is only the second time that an eastern Asian side has met a western Asian opponent in the final, with Jeonbuk's K-league rivals Seongnam Chunma having to Al Ittihad on aggregate two years ago.
Bearing this in mind, Jeonbuk will be defending the pride not only of Korea, but of eastern Asia in general, and the final also provides them with the opportunity to atone for a disappointing domestic season that has seen them languishing in the bottom half of the table.
"We truly believe that we can triumph in the final," is the verdict of veteran defender Choi Jin-Cheul. "We have shown that, despite the odds, we can beat any team. We have proved how well we can fight throughout this competition."
To prepare for the first match, the Jeonbuk coach rested his entire anticipated starting eleven for Sunday's league clash against Gyeongnam FC and was rewarded with a 3-0 defeat.
On the other side, his Al Karama counterpart went one further, arranging for his side's league fixture against Al Majd to be postponed in order to provide his team with more time to prepare for the big match.
Kwid, who admitted that he had to reconsider his tactical approach after Jeonbuk defeated Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I to reach the final, will be looking to employ a defensive game plan in the first leg and then go on the attack when the return takes place on 8 November in Homs' Khaled Bin Al Waleed Stadium.
"No final will be easy," he concluded, "but it is a good thing that we will play the second leg at home."