On Tuesday, Al Hilal will face Pohang Steelers in the AFC Champions League final in Riyadh, with both teams aiming to become the first to win Asian club football’s top prize four times.
South Korea’s Steelers, on the other hand, will face fierce home support, with an estimated 68,000 Al Hilal fans packing the King Fahd Stadium after Covid crowd restrictions were lifted.
Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, managed by the Portuguese Leonardo Jardim, will be looking for their second Champions League title in three seasons to add to their 1991 and 2000 triumphs.
Pohang Steelers, the three-time continental champions, stand in their way.
who defeated the defending champions Ulsan to reach the final for the first time since 2009. Kim Gi-team dong came back from a goal down to win a penalty shootout in a Korean east coast derby.
Manager Kim is aiming for Pohang’s second Champions League title; he was a player when the club won a then-unprecedented third Champions League in 2009, adding to back-to-back triumphs in 1997 and 1998.
Pohang defender Alex Grant recognizes the significance of the occasion.
“There are photos on the wall of previous Pohang teams winning the AFC Champions League,” the former Australian youth international told the Asian Football Confederation’s official website.
“I knew they were a big club because of the AFC Champions League and their success in Korea,” said Grant, who joined the club from Perth Glory 11 months ago.
“There’s a feeling around the club that we’re expected to do well in this competition.”
There’s a belief that other Pohang teams have done well, so there’s no reason why we can’t do the same.”
‘What an experience’
Pohang will begin as underdogs against an Al-Hilal team brimming with talent — eight of their players are on the Saudi Arabia team, which leads their World Cup qualifying group and recently drew 0-0 in Australia.
They also have striker Bafetimbi Gomis, who played for Swansea City in the English Premier League and has 12 caps for France.
Gomis has already tasted Champions League success, scoring the game-winning goal in the last two-legged final against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in 2019.
“We’ll savor it,” Grant said of the hostile reception promised by a capacity crowd in Riyadh.
It’s a far cry from last season’s Champions League knockout stage matches, which were played behind closed doors at centralized venues in Qatar due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Ulsan FC winning the final 2-1 against Iran’s Persepolis.
“What an adventure. “If we win, we’ll deserve it — but to take it away from them would be fantastic,” Grant said.
“I can’t wait to play in front of a fully packed stadium, especially after the last two years with Covid.”