Farias: Physical edge can carry Ulsan to title
© Getty Images

For the sixth time in history, a side from Korea Republic will feature in the AFC Champions League final, with Ulsan Hyundai pitted against Saudi giants Al Ahli for the coveted continental trophy and the right to represent Asia at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012.

While both finalists enjoy their fair share of support across the continent heading into Saturday's decider at the Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium, it is the Koreans, boasting home advantage, that are hotly tipped to win their country's fourth continental trophy, with former Al Ahli coach Sergio Farias backing Ulsan.

"Both Ulsan and Al Ahli impressed during this year's Asian campaign," the softly-spoken Guangzhou R&F mentor told FIFA.com. "Each side should possess the strengths to win the tournament as they came all the way through to seal their first-ever qualification for the final. Though, I personally favour the former because the K-League sides are usually capable of high-tempo competition courtesy of their physical superiority."

Indeed, Farias is well qualified to pass comment considering the Brazilian’s immense knowledge of Korean football. The former Brazil U-20 coach had a four-year spell with Pohang Steelers during which he took his side to the K-League title in 2007, before guiding them to the Asian crown two years later. In the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, Farias' charges finished third for Asia's equal best showing at the global event, also achieved by Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

And the 45-year-old is by no means a stranger on the west Asian scene, having left Jeddah to coach Al Ahli on the back of his success with Pohang, before taking the reins at UAE heavyweights Al Wasl. He singled out individual technical skills as the Saudi sides' major strengths, with three of the nation’s representatives reaching the quarter-final stage.

"The Saudis have made some great achievements in the Champions League," said Farias. “They boast some of Asia's most skilful players. The Korean teams, though, add physical stamina to techniques so they can have an edge against the opponents."

Continental motivations
With memories of his Asian conquest at Pohang still fresh, Farias targeted more continental glory when he signed for Chinese Super League side R&F at the start of the 2012 season. Under his guidance, the newly-promoted team took their first top-division campaign by storm with a series of eye-catching performances, including twice defeating Marcello Lippi's defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande.

Armed with Brazilian imports in Rafael Coelho, Davi and Jumar as well as Nigerian international Yakubu Ayegbeni, R&F finished sixth in their debut Super League season, a result which satisfied the fans but left Farias lamenting as they missed out on next year's AFC Champions League.

"As a new team our initial task was to avoid relegation," he said. "But thanks to the good work by the players and coaching staff, we excelled in the early part of the campaign and made it into the top four. Our lack of depth and growing injury list in the latter stages, though, cost us dearly as we failed to maintain that form and qualify for the Champions League."

Their city rivals Evergrande, meanwhile, successfully defended the title while also storming into the last eight in their maiden continental appearance - the first time for a C-League side since Shanghai Shenhua in 2007.

"Continental achievements can encourage clubs to develop and improve in the domestic competition. Inspired by Evergrande's Champions League performance, the C-League clubs will continue to build with star recruits."

Looking ahead to his second Chinese season, Farias remains confident of his side realising their continental dream "The C-League is making fast progress with clubs' growing investment in both first teams and youth sides, and this is a good system for professional football,” he said. “We will continue our efforts down the road next year to get good results and most ideally, to qualify for the Champions League."