ACL final the ‘biggest’ match of coach’s life

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ACL final the ‘biggest’ match of coach’s life

Ulsan Hyundai coach Kim Ho-gon tried to maintain his cool yesterday as he summoned the best of his squad and entered the final training session before the Asian Football Confederation Champions League final match.

But the 61-year-old coach let his nervous excitement leak through as he talked about Saturday’s game, which he called the most crucial match in his more than 30-year coaching career, which includes six years as the national football team coach.

“You never know whether this chance will come again,” Kim said. “I think it is the biggest match of my life.”

Ulsan will seek its first-ever Asian title when it faces Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia in Ulsan Munsu Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Coming off a 5-1 win on aggregate against Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan in the semifinals, Ulsan has gone undefeated in the ongoing Champions League campaign, making it the favorite on Saturday. The club has won eight straight matches.

Al Ahli, who has never won the Asian title, reached the final after a come-from-behind 2-1 semifinal victory against another Saudi club, Al Ittihad. Al Ittihad, a two-time AFC CL winner, beat Al Ahli 1-0 in the first leg of the semifinal but lost 2-0 in the second leg.

Founded in 1937, the Saudi club has lifted the domestic league title twice, in 1978 and 1984, and finished second six times including last year. It won the Saudi Federation Cup and the King Cup of Champions this year.

A victory would make Ulsan the third K-League club in four years to win the prestigious tournament. Kim said that fact adds to the significance of the match. The Pohang Steelers won the title in 2009 and the Seongnam Chunma followed with another title the following year. The Jeonbuk Motors finished runners-up last year.

“We are feeling the heat because the honor of the K-League is at stake,” Kim said.

The AFC CL title has been a top priority for Kim, who has treated the ongoing K-League campaign as a tune-up for the Asian tournament. He benched star players again during the club’s K-League match against the Steelers on Saturday.

Rafinha of Brazil, Kim Shin-wook and Lee Keun-ho rested during the match as Kim let out bench players to test them out for the Al Ahli final. Ulsan lost to the Steelers 1-0.

Kim said he will enter the final with his team prepared.

“We secured the videos of Al Ahli’s semifinal matches. We also have videos of the team’s several recent Saudi league matches. There will be little problem in analyzing the opponents,” Kim said.

To Ulsan’s delight, the venue was determined to be the club’s home stadium before the quarterfinal. But Kim cautioned against possible complacency when playing at home.

“As a home match is said to be in our favor, we can’t be complacent. We can’t take lightly a team that has advanced to the final,” Kim said.

Both Rafinha and Kim have scored six goals in the AFC CL. Brazilian Victor Simoes of Al Ahli, who is leading the Saudi club’s offense, has also recorded six goals.

The 31-year-old striker, who played with the Chunnam Dragons in 2008, won the scoring title in the Saudi league last year with 21 goals.

He also scored in the second-leg semifinal match, along with Saudi midfielder Moataz Al Muta.

By Han Yong-seop, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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