Ulsan Horangi: 2012 Champions of Asia in a 3-0 win over Al Ahli

Kwak Tae-Hwi celebrates goal enroute to a 3-0 win in the Asian Champions League Finals

November 10, 2012

Ulsan Hyundai Horangi won a comprehensive victory over Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli in the Asian Champions League Finals today, winning 3-0 with goals from captain Kwak Tae-Hwi, Rafinha, and Kim Sung-Yeung. With the win, Ulsan becomes the first South Korean side to win the tournament on Korean soil.  They now qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan next month -playing the likes of Chelsea no less.

While Kwak’s header found it’s way to the back of the net in the 13th minute, the first half was a bit of a slop fest, characterized by miscues, poor passing and one long ball after another. Al Alhi started to create some chances, but less than stellar finishes and Ulsan’s Kim Young-Kwang calm goalkeeping held off Motaz Al Mosa from finding the back of the net. Neither side was really able to seize control and by half it still looked like it was anyone’s guess who would settle things first.

 

The second half Ulsan got their game on by opening the field with free flowing passing and more confident possession of the ball. Ulsan’s 4-3-3 formation allowed Colombian midfielder Juan Estiven Velez to get into the action. Coming down the right, his expertly placed cross got to the head of Kim Shin-Wook who sent the ball across the goal  -Brazilian international Rafinha tracked it down in traffic to slide the ball home in the 67th minute.  If that mounting goal difference wasn’t enough of a mountain to climb for Al Ahli, Ulsan’s opened up the field even wider; they dominated in possession and renewed their attacking with flair. With Lee Keun-Ho threatening on the left, the Al Ahli backline ignored Kim Sung-Yeung at the backpost.  Kim brought down Lee’s high altitude cross and delivered a half volley past Al Ahli’s netminder for the insurance goal.

The dynamic duo of ‘Wookie’ Kim Shin-Wook and Lee Keun-Ho didn’t get on the score sheet, but made their contributions with vital assists and made their presence known to their Saudi opponents. In the dying embers of stoppage time, they both nearly ran away with running up the score line with multiple chances to score.  Kim’s header past the keeper was disallowed – he was just a hair offsides. A minute later Lee Keun-Ho’s cross to Kim at the far right post was dead on, his header banged off the upper corner of right post.  Lee’s shot only a moment later was about to slot in the bottom left of the net, with only a diving save by Al Ahli’s keeper the obstacle to yet another LKH goal. Here’s some of the highlights:

 

In the end, victory to Ulsan cemented the K-League’s footprint on recent Asian Champions League dominance: they are the 4th Korean side in a row to reach the finals – now joining Pohang Steelers and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma as Champions of Asia (Jeonbuk’s disappointing loss to Al Saad in last years’ shoot out final as the only glaring exception). The K-League has won 10 Asian Champions League titles, the most of any division in Asia, followed by J-League’s 5 title wins. This is Ulsan’s third time around in the tournament, which turned out to be a charm. For their efforts, Ulsan will be awarded $1.5 million for bagging the finals, not a bad chunk of change.

 

 

Lee Keun-Ho wins MVP of the Asian Champions League Tournament 
Lee Keun-Ho, the ex Gamba Osaka man, won the Asian Champions League tournament MVP award. His 4 goals in the tournament, 2 of them in the semifinals with Bunyodkor was a difference maker. He is scheduled to join the Army team, Sangju Samu next season to begin his 2 year mandatory military service.  K-Talk blog highlighted FIFA rules that forces Sangju Samu to be relegated next season.
Captain Kwak Tae-Hwi was awarded the game MVP. His central defense and his game winning header was decisive.
Not yet known is whether this win will give an extra spot for a K-League team to qualify for next year’s Asian Champions League. I’m getting the Tavern statistician mobilized to find out and we’ll get back to you shortly on how this all plays out. There are rumors that starting next year, the finals will be back to a 2 leg affair, but seeing as how large Asia is, not sure the logistics will work out smoothly.
Lastly, while attendance has been at time paltry for K-League matches, fans showed up 42,153 strong in Ulsan Munsu Stadium.  While the venue wasn’t technically sold out, TV images showed a mostly packed stadium, with only a few patches of empty seats.
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