HONG KONG, Oct. 18 (Reuters) – Familiar enemies clash in the battle for places in the Asian Champions League final next month as Saudi duo Al Hilal and Al Nassr clash on Tuesday ahead of the Wednesday’s meeting between South Koreans Ulsan Hyundai and Pohang Steelers.
The roster of the semi-finals ensures a showdown between clubs from two of Asian football’s main nations, with teams from Saudi Arabia and South Korea set to meet in the final for the fourth time since 2004.
But ahead of the decisive intercontinental title clash on November 23, local issues will dominate preparations for this week’s last four fixtures.
Al Hilal has been one of the dominant forces in Asian club football for the past three decades, but Riyadh’s fierce rivals Al Nassr is standing in the way of a second Asian Champions League title in three seasons.
The city’s yellow side has long lived in Al Hilal’s shadow, reaching the final of Asia’s premier club competition only once, when they lost to South Korea’s Ilhwa Chunma during the 1995 Asian Club Championship.
In contrast, Al Hilal is one of the most successful clubs on the continent, winning the Asian Club Championship in 1991 and 2000 before winning the 2019 Asian Champions League.
Despite the story, however, not much separates the current sides when they meet at the Mrsool Stadium in Riyadh.
Both have 12 points in six games at the start of the Saudi Pro League standings and Al Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim is working to get his players reloaded after Saturday’s 3-0 quarter-final win over Iranian Persepolis.
“It will be a game between the two big teams in Riyadh,” said the former Monaco coach.
“The most important thing is the players, not the coaches. We think recovery is the most important factor, so we come into the game fully prepared.
“Our goal is to reach the final.”
In the eastern half of the draw, defending champions Ulsan Hyundai have already beaten domestic opposition with two-time winner Jeonbuk Motors, which Hong Myung-bo’s side beat 3-2 in overtime on Sunday.
At Jeonju Stadium on Wednesday they meet Pohang, another K-League club, who have struggled in recent years to reach the heights previously achieved by a club that dominated Asian football in the late 1990s.
During an illustrious playing career, Hong was part of the team in 1997 that won the first of consecutive trophies of the Asian Club Championship in Pohang and now he will look to organize Ulsan’s attempt to emulate these consecutive titles.
No team have won successive Asian Champions League crowns since Al Ittihad’s Saudi Arabia in 2004 and 2005, with Ulsan looking to join Pohang and Al Hilal as the only three-time continental champions from Asian clubs. .
Reporting by Michael Church, editing by Stephen Coates
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.