Soccer-Pohang's Grant relishing underdog tag ahead of Al Hilal clash

By Michael Church

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Even as they chase a record fourth continental title, Pohang Steelers go into Tuesday's Asian Champions League final against Al Hilal as underdogs, leaving defender Alex Grant relishing being written off once more.

The South Korean side have already overcome the odds and disappointing domestic form to reach the decider, where they face an Al Hilal side heavily favoured to win a fourth title of their own.

Former Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim leads a team packed with Saudi Arabia internationals and which features talent of the calibre of Bafetimbi Gomis, Andre Carillo and Matheus Pereira.

Playing the final at home in front of a 60,000 crowd at the King Fahd International Stadium will give the Saudis a boost as they look to add the trophy to their Asian titles won in 1991, 2000 and 2019.

But, rather than be overawed, Grant is looking forward to the task that lies ahead.

"We'll lap it up," says the England-born defender. "What an experience.

"If we win we'll deserve it - but to sweep it from under their grasp would be great. I can't wait, just to play in front of a packed stadium."

The pandemic has had a major impact on the competition as organisers altered the format, forcing many matches to be played in centralised venues and behind closed doors.

Pohang, though, have shown a resilience that helped them squeeze into the knockout rounds as one of the best second-placed teams from the group phase before they handed Japan's Cerezo Osaka a defeat in the last 16.

They eliminated another Japanese side, Nagoya Grampus, before Grant's late header took their semi-final against holders and fellow South Koreans Ulsan Hyundai into extra-time.

Pohang won that game on penalties and stand one game away from securing a fourth title after successes in 1997, 1998 and 2009.

"We've probably been underestimated, I'd say, by the other teams and have gone into every round as the underdogs, beginning with Cerezo Osaka," Grant says.

"And that's played into our hands massively. Nagoya beat us in the group stage and there was probably a slight lack of respect from them.

"Ulsan probably looked at our position in the league and our form going into the game and underestimated us slightly. But if you look at the performance we put in, it was immense.

"The boys played really good football and we deserve to be in the final the way we've played and the way we've held ourselves."

(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Shrivathsa Sridhar)

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