AFC Champions League preview

Argentina and Brazil are fierce enemies. Their rivalry will, however, be apparent beyond the borders of South America on Saturday, when the coaches of Al Ittihad and Pohang Steelers pit their wits against one another in Tokyo. There, the AFC Champions League final will unfold; there, either Gabriel Calderon or Sergio Farias will raise his arms in jubilation.

The latter has won two K-League titles and Korea Republic's FA Cup since assuming Pohang's controls in 2005. However, the AFC Champions League prize has eluded him - a statistic Farias will be determined to arrest in the National Stadium. The Brazilian has reason to be confident: the Steelers beat Newcastle Jets 6-0 in the last 16, produced a heroic comeback to eliminate a formidable Bunyodkor side in the quarter-finals, and eased aside Umm-Salal to reach the final.

Calderon's charges have been equally impressive in the knockout phase. Al Ittihad beat compatriot Al-Shabab 2-1 and Pakhtakor 5-1 on aggregate, before an 8-3 thrashing of Nagoya Grampus over two legs. Moreover, the Saudi Arabians have scored an admirable 29 goals in their 11 games in the competition.

With two talent-laden, prolific teams set to collide, an engrossing match ensues.

The game
Al Ittihad-Pohang Steelers, Tokyo, Saturday

Al Ittihad will take an encouraging omen into the decider: they beat South Korean opposition win their first continental and AFC Champions League crowns. Indeed, a 3-2 defeat of Chunnam Dragons seized them the Asian Cup Winners' Cup trophy in 1999, while a 6-3 aggregate victory over Seongnam Chunma made them continental champions five years later.

Pohang ruled Asia in 1997 and 1998, with a semi-final reverse of Saudi heavyweights Al Hilal helping them on their way to the latter. They will be also counting on the support of a large contingent of Japan-based Korea Republic natives, who are expected to flock to the National Stadium.

Players to watch
With both sides vowing to attack, the game will present a stage for exciting goal-getters to showcase their predatory instincts. The prolificacy of Mohammed Noor inspired Al Ittihad to the AFC Champions League title in 2004 and 2005, and the 31-year-old is gunning for a treble. Denilson, meantime, will strive to add to the seven goals he has posted for Pohang in this year's competition.

The stat
3 - A victory over the Steelers would earn Al Ittihad their third AFC Champions League crown.

The words
"We always play to win and nothing will change for the final. This is a warning Pohang Steelers will ignore at their peril," Al Ittihad coach Gabriel Calderon.

"Al Ittihad are not easy opponents, but I don't think they regard us as an easy side to beat either. If you look at our record, we've only lost one match in the competition - we deserve to win the tournament," Pohang Steelers coach Sergio Farias.

Have your say?
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