RIYADH: Saudi giants Al Hilal won the Asian Champions League with a 2-0 victory over South Korea's Pohang Steelers in the final yesterday. Both teams were aiming for an unprecedented fourth title but it was the hosts who made history with Nasser Al-Dawsari and Moussa Marega on target either side of the break at the King Fahd International Stadium in the Saudi capital.
A breathtaking history-making Nasser Al-Dawsari goal after just 16 seconds of the AFC Champions League final set Al-Hilal on their way to a deserved 2-0 win over Pohang Steelers and a record fourth continental title at Riyadh's King Fahd International Stadium yesterday. The 22 year-old's early breakthrough was record-breaking in another sense as it was the fastest that the Champions League final has ever seen. It was also a stunning strike and worthy of winning any championship anywhere in the world. It was added to in the second half by Moussa Marega and Pohang, who were second-best for much of the game, never really looked likely to come back from that.
The East Asians, the tournament is divided into two geographical zones until the final, were up against it from the start. The roars from the 50,000 plus Saudi Arabian fans that had greeted kick-off had not even died down by the time the left-back gave the Blues the lead. Al-Dawsari, who made his national team debut earlier this year, picked up a loose ball just inside the Korean half, moved forward and unleashed a fierce shot from around 30 meters that flew into the top corner.
Goalkeeper Lee Jun may have been caught by surprise at the timing, the power and the pace of the shot but had it come in the last minute and not the first, there was still little that he could have done. It was unstoppable. The sea of blue around the arena erupted and Pohang were stunned as their opposite numbers celebrated with almost as much disbelief as delight. The Koreans, with three continental titles of their own, had enough experience to know however that there were still more than 89 minutes to play. There was a reminder of that just ten minutes later as the Steelers silenced the din in Riyadh for the first time.
Sin Jin-ho won the title with Ulsan Horang-i last December and the attacking midfielder must have thought he had got on the scoresheet this time as his half-volley from the edge of the area dipped over the diving Abdullah Al-Mayouf. Unfortunately for the Steelers the ball bounced back off the underside of the bar. Lim Sang-hyub was there to fire home the rebound but his shot bounced back off the underside of Al-Mayouf's legs. It was as close as the Koreans came all night.
The game started to settle into something approaching a more traditional final. The visitors were wary of conceding a second that would make an already tricky task doubly difficult and did not threaten enough. In fact, it started to get a little scrappy with some heavy challenges and misplaced passes. Hilal, with playmaker Matheus Pereira getting more and more into the game, looked more dangerous going forward but in the last half-hour of the first half, neither goalkeeper had much to do until right at the end Al-Mayouf was grateful to see a close range header from Gwon Wan-kyu fly straight into his hands.
Pohang made a double substitution at the start of the second half, a signal of their more adventurous intent but it was Hilal who made the first chance with Pereira finding Gomis in the area, though the striker's shot was blocked by Alex Grant. Soon after Pereira's free-kick flew just over Pohang's top corner.
The Koreans, with seven losses in their last nine league games, were struggling to get a foothold in the game but with just a one goal deficit were never out of it. A mix-up in the Hilal defence just before the hour allowed substitute Go Young-joon to get in a shot from the edge of the area that went wide. Then, with 63 minutes on the clock, Gomis slipped the ball through to Marega in the right side of the area and the former FC Porto striker found the opposite corner with a low shot. Given that Pohang had not done enough in attack, that seemed to be that.
Mistakes can still change games however and that almost happened soon after as Al-Mayouf came and missed a looping cross and the ball fell invitingly for Jeon Min-gwang from close range but there was Muteb Al-Mufarrij to react quickly to clear the danger. Pohang started to push forward but not only did it seem too little too late, it gave Al-Hilal more opportunities and 3-0 still seemed likelier than 2-1 and with 10 minutes remaining, the busy Gomis shot just wide from inside the area.
That was the last big chance but Al-Hilal and their fans did not care as by this time, they were starting to celebrate becoming the first team to be champions of Asia four times. On the night, few could have argued that they did not deserve a second triumph in three seasons. - Agencies