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Al Hilal sweep past Pohang Steelers to win title

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Hilal’s midfielder Nasser al-Dawsari prepares to shoot during AFC Champions League final football match against South Korea’s Pohang Steelers on Tuesday. AFP

Al Hilal sweep past Pohang Steelers to win title

Nasser Al-Dawsari scored the fastest ever goal in an Asian Champions League final as Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal swept past South Korea’s Pohang Steelers 2-0 to win the continental title for a record fourth time on Tuesday.

Both teams were aiming for an unprecedented fourth triumph but it was the hosts who made history with Al-Dawsari and Moussa Marega on target at the King Fahd International Stadium in the Saudi capital.

Al Hilal’s victory came a year after they suffered the ignominy of being thrown out of the event following numerous cases of Covid-19 infections within their squad.

But on Tuesday night those bitter memories were banished as the Saudi giants dominated their opponents in front of 50,000 fans.

“I am proud of the team, they are a fantastic group of players,” said Al Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim, the first Portuguese coach to win the Asian title.

“Winning the tournament was our target from the beginning and I’m happy we have achieved that.”

Al-Dawsari sent the crowd into raptures with a fantastic strike from over 25 yards out after just 16 seconds.

The Pohang midfield failed to clear the ball, allowing al-Dawsari space and the 22-year-old’s thundering left-foot shot found the top corner of the net despite Pohang goalkeeper Lee Jun’s despairing dive.

The previous fastest goal in an AFC Champions League final was scored by Saudi side Al Ittihad’s Sierra Leonean star Mohammed Kallon in the second minute against the UAE’s Al Ain in 2005.

“The early goal made the difference, the players didn’t concentrate and that goal impacted us hugely,” said Pohang coach Kim Gi-dong.

“I had a strong feeling that we can turn it around but then they scored the second goal.”

Profligate Pohang

Al-Dawsari, who had been impressive throughout the tournament, was once again the key for Al Hilal with his impressive touches in midfield creating plenty of opportunities for his side.

Pohang, too, had their opportunities and could have levelled in the 12th minute but Sin Jin-ho’s shot hit the woodwork and the rebound from Lim Sang-hyub was kept out by Al Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

Frenchman Bafetimbi Gomis sent his shot across the face of the goal later on from a Marega pass and Al-Mayouf was once again alert to thwart an effort from Pohang’s Kwon Wan-kyu.

Gomis had gone close again in the second half but made up for his miss with an excellent pass for Malian international Marega who outwitted Jeon Min-gwang before shooting past Lee in the 63rd minute.

Al Hilal could have scored one more with 10 minutes remaining but Gomis fired wide and despite some frantic attempts by Pohang, the Saudis held firm to lay claim to being the most successful club side in Asia.

Their previous wins came in 1991 and 2000, when the tournament was known as the Asian Club Championship, and in 2019.

Al Hilal can now look forward to the Club World Cup early next year.

“Our objective is to win every game,” added former Monaco boss Jardim. “The top teams from the world will be there but we will do our best as the champions of Asia.”

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