Ulsan, Al Ahly set up final showdown
The 2012 AFC Champions League final will be an historic event as Ulsan Hyundai and Al Ahly will tangle for what would be a first-ever Asian title on 10 November.
Both sides ran out 2-0 winners in the second legs of their semi-finals series, but while Ulsan won comfortably at home to eliminate Bunyodkor with an emphatic 5-1 aggregate scoreline, Al Ahly fought back to edge two-time winners Al Ittihad by the narrowest of margins. Join FIFA.com as we detail the deciders.
Semi-final, second leg results* 31 October* Ulsan 2-0 Bunyodkor (5-1 aggregate) Al Ahly 2-0 Al Ittihad (2-1 aggregate)
The match* Al Ahly 2-0 Al Ittihad* Heading into the re-match with a 1-0 first-leg defeat, Karel Jarolim's Al Ahly knew they had few options but to attack. The hosts showed their intent early on, with Brazilian forward Victor Simoes rattling the crossbar with a powerful drive, before defender Ageel Balghath pulled his shot just over with the goal at his mercy.
Raul Caneda’s Al Ittihad, missing Brazilian playmaker Diego Sauza, looked content to move the ball around and try to control the pace of the game. Their tactics, however, did little to contain the hosts, who went ahead just before the break through midfielder Moataz Al Musa. Having twice seen efforts fly over, the Saudi international got his head to Diego Alberto Morales' corner-kick to level the aggregate scoreline.
With so much at stake, the tempo was upped after the restart as both sides went in desperate search of the winner. Naif Hazazi twice tested Abdullah Mayyof with stinging shots, while at the opposite end, Amad Al Hosni flashed a header narrowly wide. But it was Al Ahly that had the final say, the dynamic Simoes settling the contest with his seventh goal of the campaign.
The other attraction Ulsan Hyundai rounded off their semi-final campaign in overwhelming fashion, defeating Bunyodkor 2-0 at home to progress to the final 5-1 on aggregate. By doing so, Kim Hogon's side maintained their unbeaten run in the campaign and their unblemished record in the knockout stage with a fifth consecutive win.
Despite losing both legs, Mirdjalal Kasimov's visitors can return home with heads held high. Needing at least three clear goals to reverse their 3-1 first-leg loss, the Uzbeks never gave up the fight. They pressed forward throughout the opening half and could have grabbed the opener if not for their clear nervousness in front of goal and a series of brilliant saves by the hosts’ custodian Kim Youngkwang.
At the other end, having weathered the Uzbeks' early onslaught, Ulsan began to threaten with their trade-mark counterattacks. Leeho cut into the area only to flash a shot wide, before Julian Estiven Velez forced Ignatiy Nesterov into a spectacular save before the break as the two sides finished the first half goalless.
The breakthrough came six minutes after the restart when Kim Shinwook, having seen an effort fly just over, latched onto a clearance to fire his side ahead. With Bunyodkor’s hopes diminished, Lee Keunho sealed the home side’s triumph with a spectacular volley 16 minutes from time. Ulsan booked their first-ever place in the final while maintaining Korea Republic's hopes of a record fourth continental crown.
The player –*Rafinha (Ulsan)* Singled out by Kasimov as Ulsan's most potent weapon prior to the return meeting, Rafinha proved the Bunyodkor coach right by terrorising his defence throughout the contest. Despite failing to find the net, the Brazilian forward did provide assists for their two goals.
The stat 7 - This year's Champions League final marks the seventh time the coveted Asian title will be contested between representative from the Confederation’s West and East zones.
What they said "It has been very hard playing in the K-League and in the AFC Champions League this season, especially with the long-distance travel, so I am very grateful to all the players. All the players, including Kim Shinwook and Lee Keunho who scored, did their best," Ulsan Hyundai coach Kim Hogon.