<
>

Can Persepolis make history or will Ulsan wrest ACL crown back to the East?

Persepolis will look to make history while Ulsan Hyundai will aim for a repeat of continental glory when the two sides face off in Saturday's AFC Champions League final.

The tournament has been a rare bright spark in Asian football this year as it prepares to crown the next continental champions at the Al Janoub Stadium this weekend.

Both Persepolis and Ulsan deserve their finalists status having been the standout teams in their respective West and East Asian zones, but which side has more at stake in the decider?

- Immovable Persepolis defence meets unstoppable Ulsan attack in ACL final
- Lak, Junior, Yoon and the players that could decide the ACL final
- How Persepolis and Ulsan Hyundai reached ACL final

Does history beckon for Persepolis?

For a side that is widely regarded as one of Iran's top teams, with 13 domestic league titles to their name, it is surprising that Persepolis have never won the tournament.

They came excruciatingly close in 2018 when a star-studded side that included Alireza Beiranvand and Ali Alipour -- who have since earned moves to Europe -- marched to the final, only to lose 2-0 on aggregate to Kashima Antlers of Japan.

The current Red Army roster may not boast as many star names but, what they lack in individual brilliance, they make up for in teamwork and by being a well-organised unit under Yahya Golmohammadi.

Persepolis boast an impressive defensive record of just six goals conceded in nine outings so far.

Although former defensive linchpin Shoja Khalilzadeh left for Qatar's Al Rayyan SC, centre-back Hossein Kanaanizadegan, full-back Saeid Aghaei and goalkeeper Hamed Lak will make Persepolis difficult to break down.

Their biggest weakness will be in their attack -- with Issa Alekasir, their leading scorer in the tournament, serving a six-month suspension after celebrating a goal in the quarterfinal win over Pakhtakor with an offensive gesture.

Considering Iran is one of Asia's traditional heavyweights, they have only produced three champions of the AFC Champions League and none since 1993.

Should Persepolis display their usual resilience in defence while also find inspiration in attack on Saturday, it could prove to be a historic day not just for the club but the larger Iranian football community.

Will Ulsan restore pride for East Asia?

Having dominated the tournament from 2012 to 2018 with seven consecutive champions, the East Asia zone relinquished their stranglehold last year when Al Hilal broke through for the West by defeating Urawa Red Diamonds in the decider.

But more than just battling for bragging rights in the East-West rivalry, Ulsan obviously have their own ambitions when they take to the field in Al Wakrah.

In a season that promised plenty, Ulsan have already missed two golden opportunities to claim their first silverware since they last won the AFC Champions League in 2012.

They were running neck-to-neck with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in K League 1 but lost out on the final day of the season, before being defeated by the same opponents in the Korean FA Cup final.

Those near misses seem to have injected added impetus in Ulsan's bid as they racked up eight straight victories since their ACL campaign resumed, boasting the competition's best attack with 21 goals.

When in full flight, Ulsan are almost irresistible with Junior Negrao, Yoon Bit-garam and Kim In-sung capable of carving open even the best defences they come up against.

Nonetheless, should the memory of recent failures play on their minds, they could be set for disappointment once again come Saturday.