South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai FC and Iran's Persepolis FC will go head to head in the final of AFC Champions League 2020 at the Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar this Saturday to decide the new champions of Asia.
Ulsan booked a place in the final after a 2-1 win over Japan's Vissel Kobe in the East Zone semi-final last Sunday and earned the right to challenge Persepolis, who represent West Asia after defeating Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr FC in a penalty shoot-out in their last-four encounter back in October.
As the two heavyweights clash for bragging rights in Asia, we pick three players from each of the clubs who can make an impression in the title decider and boast the ability to tilt the game in their side's favour.
ULSAN HYUNDAI FC
Despite the consensus that he has yet to hit top gear in the Champions League this season, Junior Negrao still scored Ulsan's winners in both the quarterfinals and semifinals and is behind only Abderrazak Hamdallah for total goals made in the tournament. That is a testament to the standards we have come to expect from K League 1's golden boot winner.
While substitute Bjorn Johnsen has matched Junior's returns of five goals with much lesser time on the pitch, what will make the Brazilian the key man for Ulsan on Saturday is his ability to create chances out of nothing. This trait was epitomised in the final moments of the semis when he chased a hopeful long ball and won Ulsan the penalty that sent them through to the title showdown.
Influencing the game for Ulsan further down the pitch has been midfielder Yoon Bit-garam, the 30-year-old South Korean who has four goals and three assists in seven ACL matches.
In only his second Champions League campaign, after making his debut in the competition with Seongnam in 2012, Yoon has been on point with 50 crosses, the most for a player in the tournament, and has created 20 chances so far -- one more than his teammate Kim In-sung. His passing will be key for Junior and Johnsen as they try to break down a sturdy Persepolis defence on Saturday.
Jo Su-huk was only called in to guard the goal for Ulsan after their first-choice shot-stopper Jo Hyeon-woo could not make it to Qatar after testing positive for COVID-19. Despite having had to watch the whole of Ulsan's domestic campaign from the sidelines, Jo So-huk stepped up when he was needed keeping three clean sheets and making an incredible 25 saves -- the most by any keeper in Asia this season alongside Al Nassr's Brad Jones.
Jo has been impeccable between the posts, especially in the knockout round where he produced eight saves against a formidable Beijing Guoan FC attack and another five in the narrow win over Vissel in the semis.
30-year-old Hamed Lak has had huge shoes to fill at Persepolis following the departure of Alireza Beiranvand to Royal Antwerp. Arguably the best goalkeeper in Asia, Beiranvand completed his long-awaited move to Europe in January 2020, forcing Perespolis to find a new pair of hands for the AFC Champions League resumption.
They turned to local rivals Machine Sazi for Lak in September and his displays have proven it has been an inspired choice. Having kept a tournament-high five clean sheets in seven matches so far in the Champions League, Persepolis will look to Lak for another solid performance.
Persepolis signed Saeid Aghaei during the AFC Champions League break and has been part of the solid backline for the Iranian outfit. The left-back has helped Lak keep four clean sheets and has also been instrumental with 25 crosses from open play -- the highest for a defender -- creating six chances and bagging an assist.
With veteran centre-back Shoja Khalilzadeh leaving to join Qatar's Al Rayyan SC after the semi-finals, 25-year-old Aghaei will be expected to play an even greater role in the Red Army's defence against Ulsan.
Persepolis will rely on 23-year-old Bashar Resan at the other end of the field to spark their attack after Issa Alekasir was slapped with a six-month ban by the AFC hours before the West Zone semifinal.
Head coach Yahya Golmohammadi will pin his hopes on midfielder Resan, who has one goal and two assists. Resan, who is set to leave the club after Saturday's match, was part of the losing side in the 2018 final against Kashima Antlers and will be hoping to put that memory behind him by getting his hands on the silverware.