Persepolis target maiden title, Ulsan eye number two
Persepolis and Ulsan will contest the AFC Champions League final
The Iranians will play their second decider in three years
The South Koreans are vying for a second title
Persepolis, the Iranian champions for the past three years, and 2012 Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai of Korea Republic, meet in Qatar this Saturday with the AFC Champions League title on the line and the right to the represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020™. FIFA.com previews the final of Asia’s flagship tournament between one team hoping to make amends for previous losses and another seeking the title for the second time.
19 December, Al Janoub Stadium (15:00 local time – 1300 CET)
Persepolis go into the match determined to make up for the disappointment of the 2018 Champions League final, which they lost 2-0 on aggregate to Japan’s Kashima Antlers. Winners of the Iranian league for the past three years, Persepolis hope to replicate their domestic dominance on the continental stage.
For the Iranian outfit and their coach Yahya Golmohammadi, this will be far from easy. Not only have their opponents ample Champions League experience , but they also won the 2012 edition, defeating Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli 3-0 in the decider.
The road to the final
Persepolis got off to a disappointing start in this year’s competition, taking just one point from their opening two matches before the tournament was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When games resumed in September, with all fixtures held in Qatar, the Red Army won three of their next four matches, topping Group C and progressing to the knockout stage.
The Iranians then defeated Qatar’s Al Sadd and Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively. In the semis, Persepolis prevailed against one of the favourites for the title, Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr, in a penalty shootout (5-3) following a 1-1 draw after extra-time.
For their part, Ulsan head into the decider on an impressive unbeaten run. They topped Group F after winning five and drawing one of their opening six matches, during which they scored 14 goals. The 2019 and 2020 South Korean champions carried that form into the knockout phase, seeing off Melbourne Victory 3-0 in the last 16.
In the quarter-finals, they then overcame China PR’s Beijing Guoan with a brace from Brazilian Junior Negrao, before eliminating Vissel Kobe and their star Andres Iniesta in the semis to reach the final for only the second time in the club’s history.
The Tehran giants put more of a premium on team play than individual skills, as evidenced by six different players sharing the team’s 12 goals en route to the final. At the back, they will be relying heavily on goalkeeper Hamed Lak, who kept a clean sheet in five of the seven games he played.
In midfield, coach Golmohammadi will be looking to Iraqi international Bashar Rasan, who told FIFA.com that “the team that makes the fewest mistakes on Saturday will win.”
For their part, Ulsan will be banking on their attacking prowess, particularly that of Brazilian Junior Negrao and Norwegian Bjorn Johnsen. The pair have each scored five times in this edition, accounting for almost half their team’s total. Kim Do-hoon's players also have a wealth of experience.
As well as a number of internationals who play for the Korea Republic national team, Ulsan have midfielder Yoon Bitgaram, renowned for his skill with the dead ball, and veteran captain Lee Keun-ho, the only surviving member from their Asian title triumph eight years ago.