A ten-game unbeaten run propelled Ulsan to Asian glory
They will play at the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time
Bitgaram, Iniesta, Junior Negrao and Qara dazzled during the campaign
Ulsan painted Al Wakrah blue on Saturday. Trailing, Junior Negrao scored twice in a wild ten-minute spell to secure a 2-1 victory over Persepolis in the AFC Champions League final and book the South Koreans a return to Qatar for February’s FIFA Club World Cup™.
The campaign had been postponed after only two rounds in March due to COVID-19. It resumed in September, with all matches played in Qatar, and they proved a real treat for fans.
Road to Qatar 2020
Ulsan had a slow start in the campaign, only having their blushes saved by an own-goal in a 1-1 opening draw against FC Tokyo in February. But Kim Dohoon’s charges emerged a different team when East Zone competition resumed in November, winning the remaining five games to progress as group winners. They went on to beat Melbourne Victory 3-0 in the Round of 16, before seeing off Beijing Guoan 2-0 in the quarter-finals. They would come from behind to win 2-1 in the semi-final against Vissel Kobe, before another comeback saw them edge Persepolis to conquer Asia.
First match with spectators
Since the competition’s resumption in mid-September, all matches were played in a centralised format and behind closed doors. But with 30 per cent attendance allowed in the final, it saw fans present for the first time. Notable among those gracing the occasion were FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his AFC counterpart Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
Lee tastes second success
Substituted on after 72 minutes, Ulsan captain Lee Keunho did what he could to help his side keep their desperate rivals at bay, successfully holding out for a 2-1 victory. Eight years ago, the 35-year-old finished as the 2012 campaign’s Most Valuable Player as Ulsan clinched their maiden title, performances which led to him earning that year’s AFC Player of the Year award.
Another near miss for Persepolis
With Ulsan leading 2-1 and the clock ticking down, Persepolis goalkeeper Hamed Lak was on his knees with his head to the ground praying for a miracle as his side mounted what was their last attack. Unfortunately, the anticipated equaliser didn’t materialize, with Persepolis again coming so close to tasting their maiden AFC Champions League title, having lost to Kashima Antlers in the 2018 final.
Iniesta’s magic touch
Despite being 36 years old, Andres Iniesta showed he has lost none of his wizardry touches on the ball. Besides pulling the strings and driving the team forward, he scored twice over the campaign, notably opening the scoring in a Round-of-16 victory over Shanghai SIPG.
Tournament Most Valued Player Yoon Bitgaram proved the driving force in the midfield throughout Ulsan’s run to glory. The 30-year-old Korea Republic playmaker scored two braces, provided four assists and earned the first-half penalty against Persepolis from which Junior Negrao equalised.
The latter finished as the tournament’s joint-top marksman alongside Al Nassr’s Abderrazak Hamdallah (seven goals apiece). The 33-year-old former Corinthians striker was particularly brilliant in the knockout phase, scoring five times, including twice in the final.
Deployed as the centre-forward, 22-year-old Abdi Mehdi Qara was a revelation for Persepolis during the knockout phase, scoring the crucial equaliser against Al-Nassr in the semi-final before opening the scoring against Ulsan. It remains to be seen whether his predatory talents will earn him a first call-up by IR Iran coach Dragan Skocic.
Did you know?
Ulsan lost an entertaining game 3-1 to Monterrey on their Club World Cup debut at Japan 2012, with Lee Keunho getting their goal. A 3-2 defeat by home team Sanfrecce Hiroshima followed in the match for fifth place.
FIFA Club World Cup 2020 – News – When underdogs upset the old order
Club World Cup has been dominated by European and South American sides
Nonetheless, several unfancied sides have caused major upsets over the years
We look back at some of the finest exploits of these ‘lesser lights’
Teams representing Europe and South America have enjoyed unbroken dominance at the FIFA Club World Cup. In the 16 editions to date, the winners have always been either the UEFA or CONMEBOL champions, with the representatives of the two continents facing each other in 12 of those finals.
That said, the tournament has had its share of upsets and David versus Goliath moments. On five occasions, less fancied teams that were not expected to feature prominently made it to the final or podium. FIFA.com brings you their stories.
As African champions for the second year running, TP Mazembe headed to the United Arab Emirates determined to make amends for their lamentable sixth-place finish the previous year. Despite having their best player, Treasure Mputu, suspended, LesCorbeaux prevailed against Mexico’s Pachuca in the second round (1-0), before seeing off Brazilian giants Internacional in some style (2-0) to set up a dream final against an Inter Milan side featuring Samuel Eto’o.
And while I Nerazzurri proved too strong in the decider (3-0), Mazembe had the distinction of becoming the first non-European or South American club to reach the final. To add further gloss to their achievement, Dioko Kaluyituka took the adidas Silver Ball back to Congo DR.
Three years after TP Mazembe’s exploits, another African club made it all the way to the final. Raja Club Athletic’s feat was arguably even more impressive, having only qualified for the tournament by virtue of being Moroccan league champions. As such, the Casablanca outfit had to face Auckland City in the first round, only prevailing thanks to a last-minute goal from Abdelilah Hafidi (2-1).
The second round was harder still, with the Green Eagles needing extra time to see off Mexico’s Monterrey (2-1). However, the best was yet to come in the form of a 3-1 semi-final defeat of an Atletico Mineiro side containing Ronaldinho in front of jubilant fans at the Stade de Marrakech.
Just like TP Mazembe, the Moroccan giantkillers fell at the final hurdle, in their case going down 2-0 to European champions Bayern Munich, with Franck Ribery at his best. And while the Frenchman was the deserved recipient of the adidas Golden Ball, Raja had the consolation of seeing their striker Mouhcine Iajour, scorer of two goals, pick up the Bronze Ball.
While Auckland City ruled the roost for many years in Oceania, the New Zealanders were often overpowered by bigger clubs on the world stage. Often, but not always.
After a historic win (3-2) against TP Mazembe in the match for fifth place in 2009, the Navy Blues went one better in 2014 by gracing the podium. Their epic run in Morocco saw them first triumph over Moghreb Tetouan (0-0; 4-3 PSO) and then ES Setif (1-0). They then pushed Argentinian heavyweights San Lorenzo all the way in the semi-final (2-1 a.e.t.), before winning the match for third place against Mexico’s Cruz Azul (1-1, 4-2 PSO).
The achievement was all the more remarkable given the club’s semi-professional status and an ambitious strategy that favoured a passing game over their normal direct style. “I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. We didn’t lose a single game in regulation time, and we deserved third place because we were fantastic from start to finish. These players were the moral victors of this World Cup,” said Ramon Tribulietx, Auckland’s Catalan coach.
After a laboured 2-1 win over Auckland in the opening round, very few expected Kashima Antlers to reach the final of the 2016 Club World Cup. Having only secured their place by winning the J.League days before the tournament, the Japanese club, playing a high-tempo, technical game, followed up with impressive wins over Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa (2-0) and Colombia’s Atletico Nacional (3-0).
Kashima even went 2-1 ahead in the final against Real Madrid thanks to a double by adidas Bronze Ball winner Gaku Shibasaki, before suffering at the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo, who equalized on the hour then sealed victory with two more strikes in extra time (4-2 a.e.t).
Two years later, it was Real who once again dashed the dreams of a huge underdog in the final, this time seeing off Al Ain 4-1. The UAE league champions, who were flying the flag for the host nation, began their heroic odyssey by coming from three goals down against Team Wellington in the first round (3-3, 4-3 PSO.)
The Emirati club then kicked on with an emphatic victory over Esperance Tunis (3-0), before eliminating mighty River Plate in an epic semi-final (2-2, 5-4 PSO).
Canelo Alvarez next fight: Mexican superstar expected to face Avni Yildirim at super middleweight in February
Canelo Alvarez is ready for his next challenge. The unified super middleweight champion is expected to take on Avni Yildirim — the WBC mandatory challenger — on Feb. 27, Canelo’s trainer and manager, Eddy Reynoso, told Boxing Scene. According to both The Athletic and Sports Illustrated, the fight is expected to take place at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
Alvarez claimed the WBA and vacant WBC super middleweight titles on Dec. 19 with a decision win over Callum Smith in Texas. The pound-for-pound great had been out of action for nearly a year due to the pandemic as well as contractual disputes with Golden Boy Promotions and streaming partner DAZN. Alvarez reached a deal with both in the fall to become a free agent and open up the possibility of fighting whomever he wants.
Sports Illustrated’s report notes that this is the first matchup in a multi-fight deal between Alvarez and Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, who promoted Alvarez’s recent win over Smith. Under this agreement, the expectation is that Alvarez would face Billy Joe Saunders at 168 pounds in May.
Yildirim, the 29-year-old from Turkey, has only lost twice as a pro. That includes his most recent bout against Anthony Dirrell in February 2019 when an accident headbutt in the 10th round ended the fight and sent it to the judges’ scorecards. Yilidirim lost on points. His only other loss came in his only other bout against higher-level competition when he was knocked out by Chris Eubank Jr. in 2017.
Joe Root is backing his young openers to come through the tough initiation of a maiden Test tour of Asia stronger for the experience.
Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley both failed to reach double figures in either innings of the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle and both fell to spin, the same spinner in fact, each time.
Sibley got a faint edge to a ball from left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya which drifted in and spun away slightly for a slips catch while on 4 in the first innings before Crawley chipped to mid-off for 9. On 2 in the second innings, Sibley appeared stunned by Embuldeniya’s arm ball which took the top of off stump, and Crawley fell for 8 to an ill-conceived drive taken at gully.
But Root believed Sibley and Crawley, who are 13 and 9 matches respectively into their Test careers, were in the best position to learn fast.
“They are doing all the right things in practice and giving themselves the best opportunity when they walk out to play,” Root said. “It didn’t quite fall for them this time but they are quick and smart learners who will be looking to turn things round in the next game.
“It is very exciting that the work ethic is there and it is a great chance for them to adjust quickly to these conditions and show everyone that they’ve got the game to perform out here. At times in these conditions out here, opening the batting can be the best time to bat. On that wicket in the second innings, it was probably the trickiest time to bat. It is very rare that is the case and they will have to learn from that.”
With regular opener Rory Burns headed to India after paternity leave as England begin the second Test, also in Galle, on Friday, Crawley, who scored a warm-up match century on the aborted tour of Sri Lanka early last year, can return to his “favoured position” at No. 3 when that swing of the tour begins. But a solid performance at the very top of the order beforehand would be a welcome confidence boost.
Likewise, Sibley will be keen to turn things around before facing sterner opposition in India.
“I see it as an opportunity to show that they can play in these conditions and I also see it as being part and parcel of Test cricket,” Root added. “You need to know how to play in these conditions and not only will it benefit them long term playing in Asia but also in matches where pitches do deteriorate late on anywhere in the world and start spinning drastically. You’ve got to have a game for it.
“These tours and these games are all about winning but the experience you get can really benefit you further in your career if you have the right attitude and go about it in the right manner. I feel like they are doing that and that is the best thing they can do, keep wanting to get better, keep wanting to learn and take as much from the experience as they can.”
Root will expect ruthlessness from his side in the second Test against Sri Lanka.
England won the first Test by seven wickets early on the last day but, by Root’s own admission, it was by no means a perfect performance. Having skittled Sri Lanka for 135 in the first innings and then put on 421 in response, built on Root’s 228 and supported by debutant Dan Lawrence’s 73 at No.5, they were made to work considerably harder as Sri Lanka posted a second-innings 359.
“You look at the best teams in the world who are winning consistently and that’s a trait you see over and over again and that is something we want, to be associated with being a side who – when they get on top – can see it through,” Root said.
England secured victory comfortably in the end and Root wants to see more of the same when the sides return to Galle, especially ahead of four Tests against India, who vanquished Australia at the Gabba to seal a thrilling 2-1 series triumph.
“India have got tremendous depth in all departments,” Root said. “They’re a side with resilience and character and we know we will have to be at our best when we go out there.
“We’ve certainly played some good cricket and are shaping up very nicely, now it’s a question of whether we can carry on in the manner we are and continue to improve.
Root was at pains not to look much beyond the match at hand, however, where England will contemplate picking Olly Stone to make only his second Test appearance as they look to rotate their seamers.
“It’s certainly an option,”. Root said. “We couldn’t be more impressed with how he’s gone about his business. He looks fit, strong, he’s bowling quick and he’s given a very good account of himself.
“There might be an opportunity for him to play on this tour, whether that’s this week or further down the line. Of course it would be nice to see him play more Test cricket and all he can do is make sure he’s ready to go if that’s the right call.”
Root hinted that spinners Jack Leach and Dom Bess could hold their places, despite the England squad having three more reserve spinners on tour.
“With the little cricket that both of them had played, I thought they grew as the game went on and got better and better,” Root said. “I expect that to be the same here as the practice days go on and the game goes on. The more they bowl and the more they find themselves in the pressure situations on the field then the better they will be for it and we will see them get better as the week unfolds.
“The fact they came out of the game with a lot of wickets between them is really pleasing and will give them a lot of confidence to hopefully speed that process up.”
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo