South Korea’s most successful team, Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, play Iranian league leaders Zob Ahan AFC Champions League final in Tokyo on Saturday evening. Both teams beat powerful Saudi teams to reach the final.
The winner of the game will compete in next month’s FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, where it will play the winner of the game between hosts Al Wahda and OFC champions Hekari United for the chance to play European champion Inter Milan in the semifinals.
“I’ve told my players that playing in the AFC Champions League final can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so they must concentrate and take the title,” said Seongnam’s head coach Shin Tae-yong, a former player on the club.
The Korean team won the Asian Club Championship in 1995. The club was also in the final in 2004. The team looked certain to take home the prize after beating Al-Ittihad 3-1 in Riyadh. In the home game, Seongnam collapsed to a 5-0 defeat and lost the title 6-3 on aggregate. It was one of the biggest upsets in soccer.
Seongnam has won a record seven K-League titles and has hosted of the Peace Cup - an international pre-season event - three times. The club also played in the 2009 Peace Cup held in Spain, which also involved Real Madrid, Juventus and Aston Villa.
Seongnam booked a place in AFC Champions League final after beating Al Shabab 1-0 at home. The Korean club progressed on the away goals rule after a 4-3 defeat in their semi-final first leg.
Zob Ahan reached the final after beating Saudi powerhouse Al-Hilal with 1-0 results at home and away.
Seongnam was created in 1989 by Unification church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who started the Peace Cup franchise and is the founder of The Washington Times. The club has faced hostility from certain Christian groups in Seongnam, who have thwarted plans for the team to build a new stadium.
It is not unusual for religious groups to run soccer teams in Korea. One of the K-League’s founding teams was the Christian club Hallelujah FC.
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