Ulsan Hyundai thumped Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli 3-0 Saturday to lift their first AFC Champions League trophy and become the third South Korean club in four years to be crowned kings of Asia.
Goals from Kwak Tae-Hwi, Rafinha and Kim Seung-Yong raised the roof at Ulsan’s home stadium and ensured Kim Ho-Gon’s side followed in the footsteps of Pohang Steelers and Seongnam Ilhwa, winners in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Al Ahli rarely troubled the hosts’ defence throughout the 90 minutes and in the end Ulsan ran out comfortable winners to end the tournament unbeaten in front of an impressive crowd of 42,153.
“Ulsan have been waiting a long time for this win and we knew we had to win the game, but to do that we had to play our normal game just like before,” said coach Kim, 61.
“I wanted the players to put Al Ahli under pressure from the first minute and get the ball through to the strikers. So today’s win is because of the players.”
Al Ahli’s Czech coach Karel Jarolim admitted his team had under-performed, but he said Ulsan were worthy winners.
“Maybe we are expecting a lot from the players and it’s true they didn’t perform well, but it’s not because they didn’t want to but because Ulsan are a strong team and they played well,” said Jarolim.
“Most of the players did their best but Ulsan are strong and they deserved to win. This is football.
“After the first goal I think we created a few chances to score at least one goal in the first half, but the strikers didn’t score and they didn’t work with the ball very well.
“I was planning to make some changes in the second half but I was surprised when Ulsan scored and after that I thought our players lost their concentration and didn’t focus well on the match.”
Ulsan started the game brightly, with Rafinha and Kwak both going close in the opening 10 minutes in what was threatening to be a one-sided affair even at such an early stage.
In the 13th minute, Ulsan claimed the lead their impressive start deserved when club captain Kwak ambled up from defence to meet Kim Seung-Yong’s free kick with a firm header.
Juan Estiven Velez tried his luck from long range on two occasions as Ulsan sought to extend their advantage and Al Ahli continued to struggle, but both attempts were well off target.
Al Ahli offered little serious threat in attack and, with four minutes left in the half, Kim Shin-Wook hooked his attempt wide as Ulsan sought what was turning out to be an elusive second goal.
That though changed midway through the second half when Velez’s ball was headed across goal by Kim Shin-Wook and into the path of Rafinha, who scored his fifth goal in five Champions League games since arriving from J-League side Gamba Osaka.
And, with 15 minutes to go, Kim Seung-Yong added a deserved third for the dominant Ulsan when his left-foot drive from a tight angle gave Al Ahli goalkeeper Abdullah Al Muaiouf little chance.
Ulsan’s fans celebrated wildly after the win which also secures their team a berth at next month’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
“I’m so happy for the players. The players want to play in the FIFA Club World Cup and it’s the same for me and I’m really happy to go there,” said Ulsan’s coach Kim.
“This is my happiest time today. I have achieved so much through this AFC Champions League victory.”