For those of you who were not in par with what happened this past weekend here in Asia, it was the finals of the most coveted competition in the continent. Not recognizable at the global stage as one cannot compare it with the likes of that in Europe. Nonetheless, it is second to it.
The two teams that battled it out: Jeonbuk Motors from Korea and Al Sadd from Qatar.
The prize to be won: A mere $1.5 Million in prize money, but above all, bragging rights as champions of Asia.
The game was being played at Jeonju stadium (home to Jeonbuk Motors). Yes, do not ask me why an AFC Champions League final was being played at home to one of the teams.
On paper, the teams looked decent enough, with the Koreans looking a bit more experienced and stronger.
However that was not the case, Al Sadd eventually won the game in a penalty shoot out.
There were a few things I picked up from the game though.
First of all, I could not take my eyes off Choi Kang-Hee’s (coach of Jeonbuk) hairline. I mean, it was just fascinating to see, as I always thought no one could ever beat Spock from Star Trek, in terms of that straight line cut.
Then there was Qatari international Abdulla Koni, who looked like the younger version of Djimon Hounsou.
Anyways, getting back to the game, I have to admit that it was interesting. Very interesting.
For the entire 120 minutes of play, Jeonbuk was basically displaying their attacking prowess. It was clear for the entire game, which team was playing. It was clear that Jeonbuk wanted to win. The home crowd was rocking. South Koreans always did. Only this time not in the red, that we have known them for, but in green – the colors of Jeonbuk.
Eninho of Jeonbuk, was the star performer for the Koreans as he scored one and provided the assist on the other. His corners and set pieces were quite threatening. In fact, it was through his goal directly from a corner kick he took, that brought them into the final. For Al Sadd, the main performers were Belhadj (you might remember him from the time he spent at Portsmouth) & Abdul Kader Keita (the Ivorian from Galatasaray). There were also the two Qatari center backs that did well for the entire 120 minutes as they remained strong and repelled the relentless Korean attack time and time again.
Then there was also the lanky goalkeeper, Mohamed Saqr. What can I tell you about him?
It was he alone, who made the final a bit interesting to watch. He, like every other Arab GK I have watched play over the years, was all over the place. He was basically a liability for the entire 65 – 70 minutes of the game. The commentators were having a field day talking about him. Gave us a few laughs, fine but he then redeemed himself to produce some sensational saves. One that I absolutely adored was where he got down ever so well to stop a shot that was otherwise a clear goal. Absolutely sensational.
Watching the last 50 minutes of the game was an embarrassment, especially to a person like myself, who had always encouraged the style of football in the region. Half of the players in the Qatari side were basically dropping like flies on every touch. This is where I hope; my wish list would eventually be taken seriously. I am pretty sure, on the basis of this performance; they are far from contending for the AFC fair play award. The Qatari’s drew 7 yellows and one red, the red I can understand as Ali Afif took one for the team in the dying minutes. However, there was a moment in the game, I believe around the 87th minute, where one of the Qatari players sportingly kicked the ball away, in order to draw medical attention to one of the opposition players. Yes in the 87th minute. I am quite sure; the player saw the FIFA fair play banner, which was purposely being promoted, around the stadium by the home crowd.
The game eventually came down to the two keepers; one who was not tested at all (Minsik of Jeonbuk) and the other, to be honest, who couldn’t catch a cold for all that I know. And the latter came out stronger, as he used his height well to save two well-taken penalties. Of all people, Mohamed Saqr turned out to be the hero of the game, the person who would lead Al Sadd to their first AFC champions league title. Who would have thought?
The two positive aspects one could take away from the game were the fact that the arrival of more experienced players such as Eninho, Keita and Belhadj, few among the many plying their trades in Asia, has quite evidently enhanced the credibility of the league. Secondly, to watch the two spectrums of football at its best was relieving, the offensive aptitude of the Koreans and defensive stronghold of the Qataris. As a passionate footballer, I can only hope that this lays the foundation for a lot more to come from Asia.