All smiles at Al Karama
Supporters of Syria's Al Karama were overjoyed to see their side reach the final of the AFC Champions' League, an accomplishment that very few of them would even have dared to dream of before this competition began.
Karama, who were crowned Syrian champions for the fifth time in their history last year, were not even expected to get past the group stages of the AFC's flagship club event. Admittedly, they were drawn against more experienced opponents such as Qatar's big spending Al Gharafa, Iran's Saba Battery and the UAE champions Al Wahda. However, last minute goals against Al Wahda and Saba Battery in Tehran helped the group underdogs shock their rivals.
"Our fighting spirit is always high and we take the game seriously until the final whistle blows," said the team's veteran midfielder Abdul Kader Refai.
The Syrians continued to eliminate some of the continent's leading sides including former champions Al Ittihad on their way to the final and despite the club officials themselves claiming that reaching the final was beyond their expectations, no one would argue that the team did not deserve their place in the sun.
Strategy reaps rewards
"We invested a lot in our team and our players," the club's President Nasouh Barody told FIFA.com. "Syrian football was isolated and we needed to get out of the shell."
Karama's president Nasouh Barody, a lifelong supporter of the club, believed that the team was suffering from a lack of exposure and competition and so set about to rectify the problem. Over the past three years the club attended more than a dozen training camps in Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, where they played a series of friendly matches.
"This was a very valuable experience for our players that tremendously helped them in the AFC CL," said Barody.
It is also interesting to note that the entire squad are graduates of the club's youth policy except for Brazilian defender Fabio Santos, who was signed two months ago.
"This is the secret behind our fighting spirit - we were all raised at this place which has a very special place in our heart," said Syrian international Iyad Mando. "Most of us do not know any club other than Al Karama and that is why we are willing to sacrifice anything for it."
Having reached the final of the Champions League, the game against Jeonbuk Motors has become the talk of Syria - yet coach Mohamed Kwid has come u p with a new idea to ease the tension felt by his players.
The player who comes up with the funniest joke each day is given a bonus by the coach as he bids to ensure that the squad stays positive ahead of the biggest game of their careers.
"I didn't want to tell them that they had nothing to lose, because it isn't true," said Kwid. "We have worked extremely hard to reach the final - and it would be painful to come all this way for nothing."
The club also treated the players to a holiday in Dubai, which is where they stayed ahead of their flight to Seoul - and the first leg of the Champions League Final.