0104 GMT May 06, 2021
The wait will go on for the Iranian Reds, having reached the final in 2018, as they again failed to take the last step toward a first-ever ACL trophy.
Champions in 2012, Ulsan Hyundai came into the final with the momentum of an impressive run of eight consecutive wins.
Meanwhile, Persepolis boasted a mean defense that had conceded just two goals since the competition’s resumption in October, with both being penalties.
Ulsan Hyundai started on the front foot, instantly applying high pressure on its opponent. The South Korean side was nearly rewarded for its attacking intent inside 10 minutes when an intricate passing move saw Negrao set up Yoon Bit-garam with a back-heel pass and the playmaker curled an effort from the edge of the box that hit the outside of the post and went behind for a goal kick.
Persepolis responded swiftly with an attack down the right. Bashar Resan set up Ahmad Nourollahi whose drilled shot from inside the box was deflected behind by Dutch defender Dave Bulthuis.
Negrao nearly added to his five goals in the 2020 AFC Champions League after finding space inside the box to head Kim Tae-hwan’s cross from the right, but under pressure from his marker, the Brazilian sent his header high over the crossbar.
The outpouring of Ulsan attacks continued with Yoon testing Hamed Lak from distance with a powerful left-footed strike, but the Persepolis goalkeeper was able to punch it away.
As the first half looked headed to a close, the game erupted into life; Ulsan Hyundai defender Park Joo-ho lost his balance and allowed Mehdi Abdi to steal the ball deep into the opposition half and drill home Persepolis’ first goal of the afternoon in the 45th minute.
In the immediate aftermath of the goal, Ulsan threw men forward in an attempt to equalize before the break and Nourollahi’s clumsy challenge on Yoon saw the South Korean side awarded a penalty after VAR review. Negrao’s effort from the spot was denied by Lak, but the Brazilian pounced on the rebound to slot home the leveler with the last kick of the half.
The second half picked up right from where the first ended, with Mehdi Shiri handling a cross inside the box and another VAR check helping referee Abdulrahman al-Jassim award a second penalty for Ulsan.
Negrao made no mistake from the spot this time to add his seventh of the campaign, moving level with Abderazzak Hamdallah at the top of the scoring charts.
Persepolis looked to respond and dominated possession for extended spells of the second half, but was limited in terms of clear-cut chances. Abdi headed wide under pressure and Nourollahi came closest, testing Jo So-huk from 30 yards out in the 67th minute in what would prove to be the Iranians best opportunities until the final whistle.
Ulsan Hyundai’s second continental victory marks the sixth time a South Korean side has won the AFC Champions League since its rebranding in 2002-03 and the first since Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' triumph in 2016.
The-afc.com contributed to the article.