Pohang Steelers were crowned the 2009 AFC Champions League winners after the South Koreans defeated Al Ittihad at the National Stadium in Tokyo today.
All three goals came in the second half as strikes from No Byung-jun in and Kim Hyung-il put Pohang in a commanding position. Al Ittihad captain Mohammed Noor pulled one back for the Saudis with 16 minutes remaining to set up a tense finale, but Pohang held firm to secure their third continental success.
"It was a final between two excellent teams. The result of 2-1 shows it very well," said Pohang's Brazilian coach Sergio Farias. "Korean football has a lot more room to improve further. I hope this victory paves the way for that."
Al Ittihad had arrived in Tokyo undefeated throughout the tournament and they started the better of the two sides, almost going ahead after less than a minute when Hicham Aboucherouane shot into the side netting.
Pohang were doing little to threaten goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid and Al Ittihad had another good chance before the break when they were awarded a free-kick some 35 yards from goal. Aboucherouane unleashed a rasping drive that goalkeeper Shin Hwa-yong did well to palm away at full stretch.
Al Ittihad continued where they had left off after the restart as Amine Chermiti rattled the crossbar with less than a minute gone. And the on-loan Hertha Berlin striker should have done better in the 54th minute but blasted high over the bar with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Against the run of play it was Pohang who took the lead three minutes later when No struck a dipping free-kick that went through the wall and beyond Zaid into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal. Denilson drilled an effort narrowly wide of the right post soon after as Pohang looked to grab a quick second.
And it duly arrived in the 66th minute with a set-piece again proving Al Ittihad's undoing, as Kim Jae-sung whipped in a free-kick from the left and Kim Hyung-il directed a header into the back of the net.
Al Ittihad pulled a goal back in the 74th minute when goalkeeper Shin could only palm Chermiti's header back into the danger zone and Noor was on hand to lash the ball into the back of the net.
On to Abu Dhabi
It was a typically nervy finish as Pohang defended desperately to protect their slender lead and Aboucherouane almost snatched a late leveller when he drilled a free-kick narrowly wide in injury time.
But that proved to be the last chance for Al Ittihad as Pohang held firm to claim the trophy and book a place at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009 in the process.
"It was really a difficult match. The level of their technique is really high and they shut out our attacks," said Farias. "We adjusted it at half time and regained control," he said, adding that his side were able to break through from a set play, which he regarded as Al Ittihad's vulnerable point.
Al Ittihad's Argentinian coach Gabriel Calderon acknowledged that Pohang's ability to take their chances decided the game.
"We did our very best, but your hard work does not always end with a goal. I'm disappointed," he said. "We created many chances, at least six chances, but it never ended with a goal. On the other side, they took their chances on a set play. But we played a high-quality game. We couldn't win today, but I'm satisfied with our performance," said Calderon.