It has already been decided by most. The 2009 Asian Champions League final is going to feature Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia against South Korea's Pohang Steelers.
History points to a surprise
It has already been decided by most. The 2009 Asian Champions League final is going to feature Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia against South Korea's Pohang Steelers. You can see why. Both teams have two Asian titles each and have healthy leads from their semi- final first legs to defend when they jet to the opposite ends of the continent for today's second legs.
Ittihad take a 6-2 advantage to Japan and the home of Nagoya Grampus. Pohang know an away goal in Qatar should ensure victory after a 2-0 win over Umm Salal in the first-leg. But before deciding that both ties are foregone conclusions, be aware that this competition has often managed a few surprises in the past and there could be a twist in the tale yet. Ittihad know this better than most. The Jeddah side lost 3-1 at home in the first leg of the 2004 final to Seongnam Chunma of South Korea.
According to the West Asian media, the second leg was a write-off but the Saudis went east to win 5-0 on a freezing evening. Mohammed Noor contributed two of those and Saudi Arabia's version of Patrick Vieira scored a hat-trick last week against a Nagoya side who were reduced to 10 men early in the game. The midfielder, with the rest of his compatriots, will miss out on next year's World Cup, but a place in December's Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi would be a healthy consolation.
Just after returning from their Jeddah journey, Nagoya demonstrated that they still have the fighting spirit. The Aichi club came back from three goals down at home to Jubilo Iwata to draw 3-3 in the J-League. That point kept Dragan Stojkovic's men in mid-table. Josh Kennedy scored again and Nagoya need the lanky Australian to be at his awkward best today. Like Nagoya and unlike their West Asian counterparts, Pohang had a game last weekend. Coach Sergio Farias sent his regular team on ahead and took a reserve side to Gwangju Sangmu to win 3-2 to keep the Steelers in the K-League title race.
It was Farias's 100th win with the club and he wants number 101 today. "One hundred wins are important but more important is victory [against Umm Salal]," he said. "We may have won 2-0 in the first leg but that won't count for anything. "We will concentrate fully on the second leg and play to win." Umm Salal came back from two goals down against another Korean team, FC Seoul, at half-time of the first leg of the quarter-final, to win 3-2 and then progress with a 1-1 draw in Seoul.
Their coach Gerard Gili is hoping for more of the same, but it not expecting too much. "We are going to try and do our best and play our best in the second game. That is all we can do," he said. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Nagoya Grampus v Al Ittihad, KO 2pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1; Umm Salal v Pohang Steelers, KO 7pm, Aljazeera Sport 1