Al Ittihad and Ulsan Hyundai moved into the driver’s seat in their bids to reach the AFC Champions League final, with wins in the semi-final first legs.
The Saudi giants ran out 1-0 winners against Al Ahli in the Jeddah derby, while the K-League men outmuscled hosts Bunyodkor 3-1 to gain a two-goal edge heading into next Wednesday’s return fixture. Join FIFA.com as we detail the last-four showdowns.
Semi-finals, first leg fixtures
Al Ittihad 1-0 Al Ahli
Bunyodkor 1-3 Ulsan Hyundai
The big match
Bunyodkor 1-3 Ulsan Hyundai
Ulsan Hyundai put a foot in the continental final as they came from behind to register an emphatic 3-1 away victory at Bunyodkor. The result not only keeps alive the Koreans' amazing run as the only undefeated side of the campaign, but also leaves them with a clear edge heading into the home match. The Uzbeks,though, saw their proud record against K-League sides brought to an abrupt end, having defeated Pohang Steelers home and away in the group stage before eliminating Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 1-0 in the Round of 16.
Cheered on by the home crowd, Mirdjalal Kasimov's hosts got off to a brilliant start, Jovlon Ibrokhimov latching onto a cross to open the scoring inside five minutes. Despite the early stunner, though, Kim Hogon's visitors remained unfazed and began to threaten with their speedy attack. The expected equaliser came after 30 minutes, when in-form Rafinha chested down Lee Keunho's chipped cross from the goalline to blast home.
Heaping pressure on the hosts after the restart, Ulsan took the lead eight minutes into the second half, with Kim Shinwook out-jumping a host of rival defenders to head home. Keunho then made it 3-1 with a header on 72 minutes, while at the opposite end, Jasur Hasanov missed a spot-kick as the hosts suffered their second loss at home in the competition.
The other attraction
The much-anticipated Jeddah derby ended in Al Ittihad's favour, with the two-time Champions League winners inflicting their 59th defeat on city-rivals Al Ahli. Saudi international striker Naif Hazazi scored the only goal midway through the second half as his side claim the narrowest advantage heading into the return leg next Wednesday at the same Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium.
In what always promised to be a fiercely contested game, Karel Jarolim's Al Ahli enjoyed the lion's share of possession early on, but Raul Caneda's Al Ittihad gradually asserted their dominance as the contest ground towards the break. AlIttihad’s Mabrouk Zaid was called into action on more than one occasion, and atthe other end, Mohammed Noor twice went close to breaking the deadlock.
The second half saw Al Ahli threaten first, with captain Taisir Al Jassim flashing a free-kick just wide, before the lurking Amad Al Hosni caused havoc in front of the Al Ittihad goal. But it was the latter that got the breakthrough, when Hazazi capitalised on a clearance to blast home the match-winning goal.
Despite failing to find the target in their a 1-0 qualifying defeat to Iran for the2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, Lee Keunho proved to be a livewire for his club, setting up one and scoring another as Ulsan came up with a crucial win.
1 - This Jeddah derby marked the first semi-final showdown played out between same-city rivals, while both Bunyodkor and Ulsan Hyundai are battling for what would be their first appearance in a continental final.
What they said
"We made a slow start to the game, but we showed improved play in the second half. We will play defensively in the return and I hope the team can put in a better performance and get an ideal result to make it all the way to the final," Al Ittihad coach Raul Caneda