Seongnam win AFC Champions League

Skipper Sasa Ognenovski was the hero as his opening goal led Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma of Korea Republic to a 3-1 win over Iran's Zob Ahan to claim the AFC Champions League final today, booking their spot at FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010.

That opener came after a Korean throw-in created confusion in the goal-mouth, allowing the Australian defender to snatch the ball and score 29 minutes in. The goal provided a platform for the Korea Republic side to build upon and eight minutes after the break, defender Cho Byung-Kuk gave them a two goal cushion rising to head in from a corner.

Having threatened a fight back, Zob Ahan were given hope when Mohammadreza Khala found the net in the 67th minute after goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong could only parry a preceding shot. However Seongnam restored their two-goal lead through Kim Cheol-Ho who tucked away a rebound in the 83rd minute to seal a deserved victory.

Seongnam coach Shin Tae-Yong praised Ognenovski, who played a part in all three goals, saying: "I'm very, very happy. It's a great feeling. I can not express in a few words."

"When I was in Australia, I stayed with him for one year. So I really wanted him when I became the Seongnam coach. He struggled last season, but he integrated himself really well with the Korean football. He is the best stopper in the K-League," said Shin.

Shin said Korea Republic also had an advantage over Iran playing in Tokyo due to the small time difference between their native country and Japan.

"If it was a home-and-away final, I'm sure we had had a tough time, because of a long journey to Iran. It was a big element that we played in Tokyo," said Shin, 40.

Ognenovski was forced to head Igor Castro's attempt away from almost under his own bar after 24 minutes when keeper Jung Sung-ryong could only punch Mahdi Rajabzadeh's free-kick weakly clear before the Australian centre-back gave Seongnam the lead five minutes later. Zob Ahan were unable to deal with Kim Sung-hwan's long throw and following a scramble in the box, Ognenovski celebrated his maiden international call-up by prodding home.

Mohammad Hosseini almost levelled for the Iranians just before the break when the ball broke to the defender on the edge of the six-yard box but Jung turned his effort behind after the defender had swivelled and shot.

Seongnam doubled their lead seven minutes into the second period when Mauricio Molina's corner was flicked on by Cho Dong-geon at the near post and Cho Byung-kuk headed home unmarked from close range. Mohammad Ghazi directed a free header at the far post straight at Jung, who had to be at his best to deny Mohammadreza Khaletbari after Ognenovski's mistake had sent the striker clear.

Zob Ahan keeper Shahab Gordan did excellently to tackle Cho Dong-geon on the edge of the box and then retreat to save his follow-up before the Iranians pulled a goal back in the 66th minute. Ghazi played in Castro and the Brazilian stretched out a leg to poke an effort that Jung kept out with his legs. Khalatbari, however, was on hand to head in the rebound from almost the edge of the box.

Jung then denied Ghasem Hadadifar low to his left after Castro picked out his run at the back post before Seongnam clinched the title with eight minutes to go when Molina's shot fortunately deflected into the path of Kim, who made no mistake.

Zob Ahan coach Mansour Ebrahimzadehy said: "We lost only five goals in 11 games, but we lost three in one game today. We missed so many chances as we made many mistakes."

"We should have checked number 11 (Ognenovski) more severely. We couldn't do it enough. That's why we lost those goals," he said.

The AFC Champions League winners will now compete in next month's FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, where they will face the winners of the tie between hosts Al Wahda and OFC champions Hekari United for the chance to play Inter Milan in the semi-finals.

Seongnam are Korea Republic's most successful club with seven K-League titles and they have made regular appearances in Asia's club competitions, winning the Asian Club Championship in 1995. They also had relative success in AFC Champions League, reaching the final in 2004 and the semi-finals in 2007.

Zob Ahan had knocked out some of Asia's biggest clubs on the way to the Asian show-piece game, including holders Pohang Steelers, Uzbek champions Bunyodkor, two-time winners Al Ittihad and Saudi giants Al Hilal in the semi-final. Today's crown was a third title for the Korea Republic, following triumphs by Jeonbuk Motors in 2006 and Pohang Steelers in 2009.