Finalists eye maiden Asian success
© AFP

Regardless of the outcome in Saturday's AFC Champions League final between hosts Ulsan Hyundai and Al Ahli, a new winner will be engraved on the trophy with Asia’s premier club competition featuring two debutants in the decider.

While the two sides enter the showdown at the Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium seeking their maiden continental title, and thus the right to represent Asia at next month's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, there is added motivation with each team determined to bring the Asian crown back to their country.

National pride
Both Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia are among the most successful nations in the nine-year history of the Champions League. The former have clinched the championship a record three times, with Jeonbuk Motors' conquest of Asia in the 2006 edition, followed up by Pohang Steelers and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma achieving glory in 2009 and 2010.

Saudi Arabia, for their part, are, alongside Japan, the tournament's second best credentialed nation, courtesy of Al Ittihad's milestone back-to-back triumphs in 2004 and 2005. And the Jeddah giants won their first continental title at the expense of none other than Seongnam, although that victory was avenged three years ago when Al Ittihad were edged out 2-1 by Pohang in their third final.

This old rivalry between the two countries, of course, will continue in this year's final with Ulsan aiming to earn Korea Republic their fourth Asian title, while Al Ahli are keen to draw the record level with Saudi Arabia's third continental triumph.

And in a sense, the two teams are motivated to also defend their region's pride, with the match marking the seventh time that the coveted silverware will be contested between representatives from the Confederation’s West and East zones.

Attack-minded game
Both sides impressed through their attacking play en-route to the final. The K-League heavyweights have been the campaign's top-scorers with 24 goals from 11 matches, while Al Ahli have netted 19 times so far to rank third, behind Al Ittihad's 22.

"I expect it to be a very attack-minded game," said Ulsan's towering striker Kim Shinwook, the team's joint top-scorer alongside Rafinha with six goals each. "With good skills we are confident that we can score many goals, while Al Ahli are dangerous with their speedy attack and techniques."

Indeed, Ulsan are indebted to the aforementioned striking duo, and an in-form Lee Keunho, as they maintained their undefeated form on the continent. Shinwook averaged a goal in each of the past three games as his side swept past the likes of Al Hilal and Bunyodkor, while Rafinha, who joined Ulsan at the start of the knockout stage on loan from Gamba Osaka, was on target four times in as many games.

Keunho, deployed behind Rafinha and Shinwook as a third striker, is the team's third top-scorer with four goals, and seems the man for the big occasion. Having scored the match-winner in their 3-2 Round of 16 victory against Kashiwa Reysol, the Korea Republic international went on to net his second in the 4-0 second-leg rout of Al Hilal in the quarter-finals, before scoring in each leg as they saw off Bunyodkor 5-1 on aggregate.

Even more impressive, though, is Al Ahli's leading marksman Victor Simoes who has scored seven times including grabbing the match-winner against Al Ittihad which sealed their first-ever final berth. Having topped last season's Saudi league scoring-chart with 21 goals as his side finished runners-up, the 31-year-old Brazilian is expecting to make history with Al Ahli on the Asian scene.

"I am very happy that I have so far been able to help my team with my goals," he said. "I feel very good and I am confident and I am very excited ahead of the final. I was a little injured before so I was not able to give my best. But now I am 100 per cent fit and I am fully ready for the showdown."