Al Hilal lifted the AFC Champions League trophy for a record fourth time as Nasser Al-Dawsari's memorable first-minute strike set them on the way to a 2-0 win over Pohang Steelers.

At the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, left-back Al-Dawsari produced a spectacular opener, and a clinical finish after the break from Moussa Marega tied up the triumph.

The breakthrough came inside 17 seconds with a remarkable long-range strike from Al-Dawsari, who snatched the ball in midfield and drove forward before lashing into the top-left corner from 28 yards with his left boot.

There was almost an equally dazzling reply from Sin Jin-ho in the 12th minute when he rattled the bar from the edge of the penalty area, the fingertips of goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayoof preventing the ball dipping in.

The ball fell to Lim Sang-hyub, but again Al-Mayoof made the save, scrambling to block the close-range shot.

Matheus Pereira thrashed a free-kick over the bar as Al Hilal looked for a second goal, while Pohang's Go Young-joon sent a shot skidding wide at the other end.

It was Marega who made sure in the 63rd minute, taking a throughball from Bafetimbi Gomis in his stride and firing low across goal into the left corner.

Victory means Al Hilal are now the outright most successful team in competition history, edging ahead of Tuesday's opponents who came into the game also with three previous titles.

Andres Iniesta arrived at Vissel Kobe amid plenty of fanfare in May 2018.

One of the most successful players in Barcelona's history, having won LaLiga nine times and four Champions League crowns among his haul of 35 trophies, Iniesta was brought to Vissel to deliver silverware.

Up until his arrival three years ago, Vissel had never won a trophy but during the Spain great's time in Kobe, the ambitious Rakuten-backed outfit have won the Emperor's Cup (2019) and Japanese Super Cup (2020).

Vissel also qualified for the AFC Champions League for the first time in their 55-year history in 2020, reaching the semi-finals.

Iniesta and Vissel are on track to feature in the Champions League again – Atsuhiro Miura's men are third in the J1 League this season and on course for their best finish in the top flight, three points clear of Nagoya Grampus in the race for the final qualification spot ahead of Sunday's showdown – as they seek to become kings of Asia.

"The team have been saying we want to become the number one team in Asia so the first big goal is to win the Asian Champions League," Vissel defender Leo Osaki told Stats Perform about the project in Japan.

"Of course we have to win the J1 League, we can't just be focused on the Champions League. But the biggest goal right now is to win the Champions League. We just have to finish third and hope we can play for the Champions League next season."

 

When Iniesta swapped Camp Nou to join captain Lukas Podolski at Kobe Wing Stadium, it brought more eyes onto the club and attracted a host of stars the following year.

Spain's all-time leading scorer David Villa, former Arsenal and Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper all followed Iniesta to Kobe.

Vissel's investment in Iniesta paid off in 2019 after conquering Kashima Antlers for their first ever piece of silverware before overcoming 2019 J1 League champions Yokohama F.Marinos on penalties in the Japanese Super Cup in 2020.

Since his debut, Iniesta has showed no signs of slowing down, with the 37-year-old maestro boasting 175 completed dribbles (second in the J1 League) and a 64 per cent success rate (third among at least 100 attempts) to go with 164 created chances (fifth) in 81 league appearances.

In total, captain Iniesta has scored 17 goals and supplied 17 assists to spearhead Vissel's cause under the ownership of Rakuten, who continue to dream big after buying the team from the Crimson Group in 2014.

"He didn't come here to finish his career. He came to win and you can see it in the training and locker room," Osaki said, with Vissel's 2021 squad including Vermaelen, Bojan Krkic and Samper. "I think bringing him into the team opened the path for other world-class players to come in and it attracted a lot of people to watch the J1 League and Vissel Kobe. In that point of view, it gave the team a positive reaction.

"For him playing with us, since the first day he came, there was a positive reaction. Watching him from behind, it's a dream come true because most of us were just watching him on TV.

"Playing wise, he demands a lot from everybody, not just players next to him but behind him, goalkeeper and strikers. In our bad times, he tries to talk to players and motivate them so the team doesn't fall apart.

"Winning that title changed everything in a good way," Osaki added. "Since it was the first title in the club's history, that boosted the confidence for everyone. Also the expectations got higher. Winning those two titles changed a lot."

"I think we haven't accomplished anything, so the job isn't finished. We have to play in the Champions League and become the number one team in Asia. We've made progress in terms of getting two titles. The team had never won any titles, so that was big progress," the 30-year-old said.

"Playing in the Champions League gave us experience and confidence, which has helped us this season. In the Champions League, we didn't end up winning but I think that experience gave us confidence and that's why we are in this position now."

 

Since Iniesta's arrival, Vissel have ranked third in the J1 League in possession (57.2 per cent), passing accuracy (85.5 per cent) and shooting accuracy (47.3 per cent), while they have outperformed their expected goals (xG) value of 171.4 by scoring 183 goals – the fourth most in that span.

"Bringing in Andres and all those world-class players always gives a positive reaction to the team but at the same time, fans are like 'you have these players, so you have to win'. But football isn't that easy," he added.

"Of course we have quality players and we play with 11 players, but it's a team sport. It takes time. Fans can't wait, they want results instantly. We struggled in the beginning and we were focused on possession and everything but now we are probably 50 per cent counter-attack and 50 per cent possession - and we started getting results."

He added: "I think sometimes we focus on the project too much in the past. Of course, we want to play out from the back, press the ball and dominate the game but sometimes we focus on that too much. At times we had 60-70 per cent possession but we couldn't get results or win. We're still working on that actually, playing out of the back. We kind of added a different kind of style, just go forward at times.

"Now, we're focused more on the result. At times we play good and at times we don't, but still focusing on the result is keeping us in this position now."

Pohang Steelers came from behind to book their AFC Champions League final spot with a 5-4 penalty shootout victory over 10-man Ulsan Hyundai after a 1-1 draw.

Alex Grant nodded in a late equaliser before Pohang scored each of their five penalties, with Davy Bulthuis missing for Ulsan.

A cagey first half saw just two clear-cut chances, with Lee Seung-mo heading against the left post in the sixth minute for Pohang before Ulsan should have gone ahead on the stroke of half-time as Yun Il-lok headed a free-kick wastefully wide after being found unmarked at the back post.

The deadlock was broken seven minutes after the restart when Yoon Bit-garam's low ball across the face of goal was spilled by Jun Lee, allowing Yun to pounce on the loose ball and fire in from close range.

Pohang threw men forward in search of an equaliser but were nearly caught out as Yoon struck the right post from Lee Dong-gyeong's cutback, with Lee Jun rooted to the spot.

Ulsan were reduced to 10 men as captain Won Du-jae slid in on Lim Sang-hyub with his studs showing, earning himself a straight red card with over 20 minutes of normal time still to play.

The Ulsan midfielder's error of judgement proved costly as Pohang's man advantage paid dividends, with defender Grant heading in off the post in the top-right corner to level the scores with one minute of normal time remaining, forcing extra-time and then spot-kicks.

Ulsan centre-back Bulhuis was the only player to miss from the spot, blazing over the bar, although Lee Chung-Yong saw a tame stutter-stop effort easily saved, but was allowed to re-take it as Jun Lee was off his line.

Pohang scored all five spot-kicks, with captain Kang Sang-woo rifling the final penalty inside the left-hand post to spark wild celebrations.

The K League 1 side will face Saudi Arabian outfit Al Hilal in the final on November 23.

Salem Al Dawsari struck lucky with a deflected winner as Al Hilal beat Al Nassr 2-1 in a thrilling Riyadh derby to reach the AFC Champions League final.

Anderson Talisca had headed 10-man Al Nassr level following an early opener from Moussa Marega, but Al Dawsari had the decisive say when his 15-yard strike took a wicked deflection for what proved to be the winning goal in the 71st minute.

At the King Saud University Stadium, three-time competition champions Al Hilal snatched a 17th-minute lead when Marega timed his run perfectly to meet a pass from Bafetimbi Gomis. The striker's powerful shot looped in off defender Abdullah Madu, beating Waleed Ali's dive.

Talisca twice went close to levelling just after the half-hour mark, firstly with a low shot from a tight angle that keeper Abdullah Al-Mayoof scrappily pushed out. Brazilian Talisca then struck a rasping drive from wide on the right flank that grazed the right post.

Al Nassr lost a man in first-half stoppage time, left-back Ali Al Lajami sent off for a wild challenge on Marega, catching the striker dangerously on the shin.

Abderazak Hamdallah had a shot turned wide for a corner by Al Hilal keeper Al-Mayoof, but there was no denying Talisca from the set-piece, as he headed powerfully into the right corner from Abdulfattah Asiri's delivery for a 50th-minute leveller.

Al Dawsari headed wide from a great opportunity for Al Hilal, but he made amends in the 71st minute, albeit with a huge slice of luck. His shot came off Al Nassr captain Madu and nestled in the left corner of the goal, wrong-footing Waleed as a second deflected strike beat the goalkeeper.

Nasser Al-Dawsari hit the bar with a delicate 18-yard chip as Al Nassr chased the leveller that never came, Madu firing six inches wide with almost the last kick of the game.

The second semi-final takes place on Wednesday in Jeonju, as Ulsan Hyundai take on fellow South Korean outfit Pohang Steelers.

Bayern Munich will face either Al-Duhail or Al Ahly in their Club World Cup semi-final on February 8.

The competition's draw took place on Tuesday in Zurich and confirmed European champions Bayern will tackle hosts Al-Duhail or CAF Champions League holders Al Ahly.

Al-Duhail secured their qualification as hosts by winning the Qatar Stars League in 2019-20, with no Qatari side managing to win the AFC Champions League.

Egyptian giants Al Ahly won African club football's biggest prize in November and qualified for the Club World Cup for the sixth time, having last appeared in 2013, which was also Bayern's only previous appearance.

Al-Duhail received a walkover into the second round after Auckland City, who had been nominated as Oceania's representative, pulled out due to coronavirus quarantine measures implemented by authorities in their native New Zealand.

The other second-round clash drawn on Tuesday will see AFC Champions League winners Ulsan Hyundai face CONCACAF champions Tigres of Mexico, who are making their first appearance.

Tigres or Ulsan will go forward from that tie to play the Copa Libertadores champions – Santos and Palmeiras are due to face off in an all-Brazilian final of that competition on January 30.

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