This season’s AFC Champions League finished with Ulsan Hyundai (Korea Republic) winning the title.
In the one-off final held on 10th November, Ulsan played against Al-Ahli (Saudi Arabia). The South Korean side enjoyed the benefit of playing before their home crowd after the venue of the final was decided in a draw. An all-time record crowd crammed into the Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium and saw the home side called “Horangi” (The Tigers) fully showing their strength.
Unbeaten for 11 games up to the semi-finals with nine wins and two draws, Ulsan were solid in defence by tradition. In addition to that, they have sharpened their attacking edge during this season. Their style, taking chances based on a solid defence, is called “iron mace football” by the local media.
After 13 minutes, Kwak Tae-Hwi, who used to play for J1 League club Kyoto Sanga, put the home side ahead. Rafinha and Kim Seung-Yong, both former Gamba Osaka players in the J1 League, extended their lead with 68th and 75th-minute goals.
Ulsan heard the final whistle with the score at 3-0 and were crowned the Asian champions for the first time in their history. They brought back the Asian champions title to the East Asian Region for the first time in two years after Al-Sadd (Qatar) snatched it last season.
Out of the four J. League clubs which featured in this season’s competition, Nagoya Grampus, Kashiwa Reysol, and FC Tokyo progressed beyond the group stage, but all these three lost in the last 16. They couldn’t overcome the difficulty of playing a one-off away game.
The competition’s MVP title went to Lee Keun-Ho, who used to play for Jubilo Iwata and Gamba Osaka in Japan. The 27-year-old Korea Republic international showed his quality at the centre of Ulsan’s attacking play. He also scored a winning goal against Kashiwa Reysol in the last 16. His outstanding contribution made him an incontestable receiver of the MVP award.
At the AFC Annual Awards 2012 held on 29th November, Lee again found himself under the spotlight. He was named the AFC Player of the Year ahead of the other short-listed nominees: Zheng Zhi, captain of quarter-finalists Guangzhou Evergrande (China) and former Iran international Ali Karimi. As a South Korean player, Lee received the award for the first time in 21 years.
In addition, Ulsan Hyundai were honoured as the AFC Club of the Year. “Horangi” led by coach Kim Ho-Gon are expected to prosper in the FIFA Club World Cup Japan, which will kick off on 6th December.
For this year’s awards, the AFC Asian International Player of the Year award was newly established to honour the best Asian player who plays for a club outside Asia.
As the honourable first winner of the award, Japan international Shinji Kagawa was named (Manchester United FC, England). His positive campaign for both Borussia Dortmund in the 2011/12 season and the Japan international team was highly evaluated.
In the awards for women, Japan international Aya Miyama won the AFC Women’s Player of the Year award for the second year running. The clubs and players that belong to the EAFF powerfully drove Asian football again in 2012.