x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

East will meet West as Steelers seal the deal

Pohang Steelers of South Korea and Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad vie to become the first Asian team to wear the continental crown for the third time.

Umm Salal's Brazilian player Davi, centre, is outmuscled by two Pohang defenders in Doha on Wednesday.
Umm Salal's Brazilian player Davi, centre, is outmuscled by two Pohang defenders in Doha on Wednesday.

East will meet West in the final of the Asian Champions League on November 7 when Pohang Steelers of South Korea and Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad vie to become the first Asian team to wear the continental crown for the third time, and earn a place in the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

It is a fitting final between two teams who have impressed - especially in the knockout stage. Just hours after Al Ittihad won 2-1 at the Japanese home of Nagoya Grampus to make it 8-3 on aggregate, Pohang triumphed 2-1 at Umm Salal to follow up their 2-0 home win from last week. It was always going to be an uphill struggle for the Qataris after the first leg and so it proved. The Macedonian marksman Stevica Ristic grabbed that vital away goal just after the break that left Umm Salal needing to score an unlikely four.

Not long after Noh Byung-joon doubled the advantage on the night. The only blot on the performance for the Steelers was the fact that Ibrahima Nadiya gave the hosts a late consolation. All in all, though, it was a job very well done for Pohang. The two-time Asian champions were not at their best in either leg but, as they near the end of a gruelling season - Sunday sees a vital K-League match against defending Korean champions Suwon Bluewings, the team's 48th game since the middle of March - it is all about results.

"To be honest, it was not a good game to watch today," Pohang coach Sergio Farias said. "However, we got a good result tonight, that was what we wanted and I think this is a part of the competition." If the Brazilian was concerned about facing the unbeaten Al Ittihad in the final, he did not show it, adding: "The final is going to be great and we think that we are going to face a good team similar to ours. Al Ittihad scored a lot of goals in the semi-final but our team also scored good goals."

Umm Salal's manager Gerard Gili was philosophical about his team's exit. His side went much further than expected in this, their first continental adventure. "I believe that we made history in this tournament," said the Frenchman. The former Ivory Coast coach lamented missed chances but in truth, his team were second best for the vast majority of the 180 minutes and can have no complaints. "We had some chances to score in the first-half as did Pohang, but the first-half finished scoreless. I think that against a team like Pohang, you can't afford to miss any chances."

sports@thenational.ae