|Hilal's midfielder Salem al-Dawsari, right, vies for the ball with Pohang's defender Gwon Wan-gyu during AFC Champions League final football match between KSA's Al-Hilal and South Korea's Pohang Steelers at the King Fahd International Stadium in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Nov. 23. AFP-Yonhap|
Pohang Steelers' pursuit of a long-awaited Asian club football title will have to be on hold for at least another year.
The South Korean club lost to the Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal 2-0 in the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh on Tuesday (local time).
Nasser Al-Dawsari scored only 16 seconds into the match, the fastest goal in an AFC Champions League final, and Moussa Marega rounded out the scoring in the 63rd minute to lift Al Hilal to their fourth Asian crown.
Pohang, too, had been pushing for their fourth AFC title, and their first since 2009.
But the K League 1 outfit couldn't have had a worse start, as Al-Dawsari scored a stunner from about 22 meters out to give Al Hilal an early advantage.
Sin Jin-ho nearly tied the game in the 12th minute, when his volley from the edge of the box hit the woodwork. Lim Sang-hyub tried to bang home the rebound but goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Muaiouf deflected the shot off his leg.
Al Hilal doubled their lead 18 minutes into the second half. Bafetimbi Gomis threaded a perfect pass to Marega, who beat defender Jeon Min-gwang one-on-one and fired the ball into the far corner.
Pohang head coach Kim Gi-dong, who'd won the 2009 AFC title with Pohang as a player, said his team could never get out of an early hole.
"We gave up the first goal way too early in the match, and I think the players started rushing things too much afterward," Kim said. "That led to a lot of mistakes on our part. If we hadn't struck the crossbar (in the 12th minute), then the match would have been more interesting."
Kim said Pohang's aggressive push for an equalizer opened up space behind their defense in the second half, and Al Hilal did well to exploit that.
"What's disappointing about this loss is that we showed only 50 percent of what we'd prepared," Kim said. "I think some of our young players were a bit too nervous. I hope they will grow from this experience."
Pohang's Australian defender, Alex Grant, acknowledged defeat.
"When you concede a goal that early in the game, you are always going to be against it," Grant said. "We knew coming into the game that it was going to be tough as they have great quality players. They were the better team."
Pohang played without starting goalkeeper Kang Hyeon-mu and midfielder Lee Seung-mo.
Kang underwent season-ending ankle surgery in October while Lee wasn't permitted to leave South Korea for failing to fulfill his community service hours requirement upon receiving a military service exemption for winning a gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games. (Yonhap)