ACL

Korea Republicย international centre-back Kwak Tae-hwi is hoping to re-writeย his and Al Hilalโ€™s history ahead of the first leg of thisย yearโ€™s AFC Champions League final against Australiaโ€™sย Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday.

Kwak captainedย Koreaโ€™s Ulsan Hyundai to the AFC Champions League title inย 2012 before moving to Saudi Arabia in 2013, initially withย Al Shabab, before joining Al Hilal at the end of last year.

And with Al Hilalย looking to join Koreaโ€™s Pohang Steelers as the onlyย three-time continental champions having previously won theย Asian Club Championship in 1991 and 2000, Kwak is also eyingย an unprecedented AFC Champions League doubleย by winning the title with sides from opposite sides of theย continent.

โ€œI wonย the AFC Champions League with Ulsan two years ago and then Iย moved to Saudi Arabia and have also qualified for the AFCย Champions League final,โ€ said 34-year-old Kwak, whoย arrived in Sydneyย on Sunday with his Al Hilal team-mates.ย 

โ€œAย second victory in the AFC Champions League would re-writeย history for myself and Al Hilal. The AFC Champions League isย very big and I hope to win the AFC Champions Leagueย again.

โ€œMy experience ofย winning the AFC Champions League gave me a huge boost. Andย now we have qualified for the AFC Champions League final, Iย ย will try and pass on that to my team-mates to make sure weย win the AFC Champions League.โ€

Current Al Hilalย team-mate Saud Kariri is already a two-time Asian championย having won the AFC Champions League with Saudi Arabiaโ€™s Alย Ittihad 2004 and 2005 before Kwak was on the scoresheet inย November 2012 as Ulsan beat Al Ahli 3-0ย in the final to claim the continental title for the firstย time following an unbeaten campaign.

โ€œUlsanย was a really good time for me as I had a lot of goodย experiences and I won the AFC Champions League, and I wasย able to share this experience with my team-mates,โ€ addedย formerย FC Seoul, Chunnam Dragons, Kyoto Sanga and Al Shababย defender Kwak.
ย 
โ€œNowย with Al Hilal, it is a new experience to come to anotherย country and compete against other teams and other players.ย ย It is a new challenge for me. I achieved great things withย Ulsan and I thinkย I can achieve great things with Al Hilal asย well.โ€

Kwakย only appeared twice in the group stage of thisย yearโ€™s AFC Champions League, but after forming aย formidable central defensive partnership with Brazilianย Digao, the Korean has been ever-presentย during the knockout stage as Al Hilal reeled off anย impressive run of eight continental outings withoutย conceding a goal prior to their semi-final second leg defeatย by Al Ain.

โ€œIย learned so many things and gained a lot of experiences withย Ulsan,โ€ said Kwak, who also played for Al Shabab in the
2013 AFC Champions League.ย 

โ€œAlย Hilal trusted and needed my experience after winning the AFCย Champions League, therefore I would like to share and giveย my experiences to our players and I hope I can be helpful toย our players.โ€

Forย Kwak, though, this year will present a new challenge withย the AFC Champions League final being played over two legsย compared to the one-off tie which Ulsan prevailed in over Alย Ahli in 2012.

But Kwakย will be able to provide invaluable insight into East Asianย football with the new format also meaning Al Hilal have onlyย played teams from the West and Central Asia in this yearโ€™sย AFC Championsย League en route to their meeting with Australiaโ€™s Westernย Sydney.

โ€œTheย AFC Champions League was only one leg two years ago,ย but it has now changed to home and away,โ€ added Kwak.

โ€œBut we have qualified for the final and have to winย AFC Champions League. I donโ€™t wantย to be runner-up. If we win the first leg, we will win theย AFC Champions League.โ€

This will also presentย a new challenge for Al Hilal coach Laurentiu Reghecampf, whoย succeeded Sami Al Jaber in May after leaving Romanianย champions Steaua Bucharest.

The new coach, our players, and I, we are all professional and have a strong minds and good strength,โ€ said Kwak.

โ€œTheย coach and our players trust each other. We are becomingย stronger as a team and we will show better performances toย win theย AFC Champions League.โ€

Having previously played abroad in Japan with Kyoto, Kwakโ€™s chance to againย ply his trade overseas was aided by the introduction of theย three plus one rule which allows clubs toย sign a player from another Asian country in addition toย three other foreign players.

โ€œTheย three plus one rule is a huge help for foreign players toย play in Asia. I can play in Saudi Arabia due to thisย regulation now, and it is really good regulation,โ€ addedย Kwak.

โ€œI was playing for Al Shabab for one year and then Al Hilal offered me a transfer. The time I had with Al Shabab was still a great experience for me.โ€

Following Saturdayโ€™s first leg in Sydney, theย decisive second leg will take place at King Fahd Stadium inย Riyadh a week later.

CAPTION –ย Korea Republic international defender Kwak Tae-hwi helped Alย Hilal qualify for the 2014 AFC Champions League final, whereย the Saudi Arabian side will face Australiaโ€™s Westernย Sydney Wanderers.

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