ACL 2016 Round 1 Preview

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This week sees the first round of the Group Stages of the 2016 ACL and for many of the teams it’s that much awaited first competitive match of the season and the chance to showcase the new additions to the squad. The first round has a couple of matches which even at this early stage could go a long way to deciding who gets out the group and who gets to “focus on the domestic scene”.

Jeonbuk Badge

Jeonbuk v FC Tokyo (7pm Tuesday 23rd)

Jeonbuk start their 2016 campaign by hosting FC Tokyo. All eyes will be on Jeonbuk’s new signings and especially Kim Shin Wook as fans and media alike will be hoping he can repeat his success with Ulsan in the green of Jeonbuk. As well as watching the new signings attention will also turn to the hole in defence after Kim Kee Hee’s recent switch to the Chinese Super League and just how they cope without him. This time last year Jeonbuk started their campaign with a 0-0 draw against eventual table-toppers Kashiwa Reysol. They had the ball in the net twice that night with both ruled offside, they really cannot afford a repeat of that scoreline this year as nobody really knows how strong Jiangsu will be in this group.

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Kim Shin Wook

Prediction – A winning debut for ‘The Wookie’ – Jeonbuk 1 FC Tokyo 0

FC Seoul Badge

Buriram United v FC Seoul (8pm Tuesday 23rd)

Like Jeonbuk, FC Seoul have also improved their squad significantly and are a vastly different team from that which meekly exited last year’s tournament to Gamba Osaka. The obvious name to look out for is returning legend Dejan who many are looking at to spur them on to silverware this season. Much has been made of the fact that he is now 2 years older than the Dejan that left but he did manage to score in both matches against Suwon Bluewings in last year’s ACL so maybe he still has it. In Buriram, Seoul face a team who are often underestimated by Korean football fans and they will have to play at the top of their game to come back from Thailand with all the points. Thunder Castle is no easy place to go where a combination of the heat and the atmosphere make it tough for most teams. A good result here for Seoul will set them up nicely for the visit of Sanfreece and then the double-header against Shandong.

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Buriram fans

Prediction – A hard-fought draw – Buriram 1 Seoul 1

Suwon Badge

Suwon Bluewings v Gamba Osaka (7:30pm Wednesday 24th)

Suwon begin this year’s Champions League campaign with a home tie against Gamba Osaka in what should be a huge match even at this early stage. Last year they faced Urawa Reds and came back from 1-0 down to record a deserved 2-1 victory and secure all three points. Suwon made home advantage count last year and they will need to do the same again this time to have any chance of emerging from the group. Gamba will want to bounce back from having just lost 3-1 to Sanfreece in the Super Cup. In last year’s competition they knocked out both FC Seoul and Jeonbuk in the knockout stages, a victory for them in the Big Bird and you would think you would be adding Suwon to that list.

Suwon fans celebrate the 2-1 victory
Suwon fans celebrate the 2-1 victory

Prediction – A goal-scoring draw – Suwon 2 Gamba 2

Pohang Badge

Guangzhou Evergrande v Pohang (8:30pm  Wednesday 24th)

Pohang earned their place at the ACL table by coming through a play-off with Vietnamese team Hanoi T&T. They won the play-off 3-0 but for long periods of the match it was a lot closer than the eventual scoreline would suggest. Pohang seem to have downsized during the close season with Kim Seung Dae’s move to the Chinese Super League being the biggest loss for them. Their opponents need no introduction and are looking to win their second ACL in a row and in the close season boosted their squad with the 42M signing of Jackson Martinez from Athletico Madrid. They are however slow starters in the ACL  and this plus the fact they will play their opening match behind closed doors due to breaking regulations regarding sponsorship might just give Pohang a chance.   The Steelers face a tough group with Urawa Reds and Sydney FC making up the pack and will need to perform at a higher level than against Hanoi if they are to finish in the top two.

Prediction – A home win for Asia’s self-declared biggest team – Guangzhou 1 Pohang 0

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Asian Champions League 2016 Preview

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It’s that time of the year again when the first competitive fixtures of the season are almost upon us, so close we can almost taste the victory, hear the roars and unfortunately for many try to shrug off defeat. Next week sees the beginning of the 2016 Asian Champions League group stages and with Pohang avoiding an upset by easily dismissing Hanoi T&T in their playoff match Korea has four teams in the East Asian groups. As always expectations are high and following last year’s successful if not exactly breathtaking performances in the groups it will be interesting to see if we will see four teams in the knockout stages again. Some have a better chance than others of progressing with at least one if not two ‘groups of death’ and coupled with the recent Chinese spending spree there are quite a few hurdles standing in the way of replicating last year.

Group E 

Jeonbuk Badge

Jeonbuk Hyundai

Jiangsu FC

Becamex Bing Duong

FC Tokyo

Jeonbuk find themselves yet again in a group that on paper they should progress from although perhaps not quite as easy as last year. They will yet again clash swords with Bing Duong who last year they defeated 3-0 at home before rather surprisingly coming back from Vietnam with a 1-1 draw. You would expect them to be victorious over both matches this year and with the two matches being back to back could well give the boys in green the boost in the group they need.  As with all the Chinese teams in the ACL this year Jiangsu are going to be a surprise package and nobody really knows how their new signings of Chelsea’s Ramires and Shaktars’ Alex Tiexeira will gel together but it’s safe to say that if they do hit the ground running then they will be a force in the group. That could well leave Jeonbuk vying for second place with the final team in the group, FC Tokyo.

The Japanese outfit secured their place in Group E courtesy of a 9-0 demolition of Thailand’s Chonburi FC, and regardless of the opposition any victory of that margin  has to be respected. Tokyo boast Australian international Nathan Burns among their ranks and also have a man familiar to Scottish fans in the guise of ex-Rangers and St-Johnstone striker Fancisco Sandanza. They will definitely be in the mix come the end of Round 6 and it could all come down to how many each team put past the unfortunate Bing Duong to split the teams.

Jeonbuk have been pretty active in the transfer window securing the names of Kim Bo Kyung and Kim Shin Wook along with Australian defender Erik Paartalu, they haven’t been strengthening just to retain their K-League crown and will see the ACL as a competition that they will be hoping to play a major role in. They will have to start better than last year’s 0-0 home draw against Kashiwa Reysol in order to do so though and giving that their first match is at home to likely second place rivals Tokyo less than a win could be problematic. Will Jeonbuk hit the ground running or will they stagger towards the knockout stages like last year?

Player to watch – Kim Shin Wook

Predicted finish – 2nd place


 

Group F

FC Seoul Badge

FC Seoul

Sanfreece Hiroshima

Buriram

Shandong Luneng

FA Cup winners FC Seoul are drawn in Group F which is potentially the easiest of the groups for the Korean teams and is one that they will probably be quietly confident about progressing from. They are a far stronger side than last year’s team that crashed out rather embarrassingly in the knockout stages to a 6-3 aggregate defeat at the hands of Gamba Osaka. Since then they have added steel in the middle in the form of Takahagi, guile up front in the form of Adriano and of course the return of former hero Dejan will almost certainly give them that little extra belief. Although they should progress from the group they do still have a couple of tricky fixtures to navigate. Their opening match is away to Thai champions Buriram who are no pushovers at home as Seongnam FC found out last year with both the heat and clinical finishing of the opposition proving too much for them. Potentially the toughest test for Seoul will be that of J-League champions Sanfreece Hiroshima who have the pleasure of under 23 hero Takuma Asano in their ranks. Japanese teams are notoriously slow starters as was witnessed last year with Gamba Osaka and Seoul will do well to exploit this when Sanfreece come to town in round 2.

The final team to make up the group is Shandong Luneng who made their way to the group stages via a playoff victory over Adelaide. Shandong may not boast the superstar signings of the other Chinese entries this year but they do have Brazilian striker Aloisio who’s return of a goal every two games is not to be sniffed at. The victory over Adelaide was pretty impressive giving that the Australians are currently nineteen matches into their season and occupy third spot in the table. In that match Shandong raced into a 2-0 HT lead. The hosts missed a penalty before they finally pulled a goal back but it was too little too late and for the second year in a row an Australian team crashed out in the playoffs at the hands of the less-fancied team from China.

As previously said on paper Seoul should be able to steer their way through the group and could find themselves the only Korean team topping their table come the end of Round 6.  A lot will depend on which Dejan returns to the club, the fans will be hoping it’s the Dejan of 2012/13, if so then they could well go further than last year.

Player to watch – Returning legend Dejan

Predicted finish – 1st place


 

Group G

Suwon Badge

Suwon Bluewings

Melbourne Victory

Gamba Osaka

Shanghai SIPG

Group G is the first of the two potential ‘groups of death’ as Suwon face Austrialian champions Melbourne, last year’s losing semi-finalists Gamba and Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Shanghai. They will begin their campaign with a home match against Gamba and you already have the feeling that that could be a ‘must-win’ match for them. This time last year they came from behind to snatch all three points against Urawa Reds but you would imagine they will face a tougher test this time round. Gamba are a good team and will probably still feel aggrieved that they lost the J-League ‘final’ in the manner in which they did by conceding two late goals. They have several good players but all eyes will be on striker Usami and Suwon will have to keep him quiet if they are to have any chance in both matches.

In Melbourne and Shanghai they face two unpredictable teams, Australian teams don’t tend to travel too well and Shanghai are making their ACL debut so Suwon may just be able to exploit these to their advantage. That’s not to say either team are mugs, Melbourne won the A-League last year and have playmaker , and all round Football Manager legend, Kosta Barbarouses to call upon and although they may struggle on the road they should be a tough nut to crack at home. Shanghai,  although novices in this arena have some pretty experienced ‘big-hitters’ to turn to. They have ex-Evergrande pair Conca and Elkeson in their squad and both have put many a Korean team to the sword before. Add to this the old warhorse Sven and they are a team that probably won’t succumb to ‘wedding night nerves’.

It’s a tough group indeed for Suwon and they will have to come out the blocks firing on all cylinders to have any chance of repeating last year’s appearance in the knockout stage. The fact that they really haven’t strengthened at all over the summer is surely going to have an impact on them and you get the feeling they might be better served focusing on ther dismal domestic cup record than dream of finals in the Middle East.

Player to watch – Kwon Chang Hoon

Predicted finish – 3rd place


Group H

Pohang Badge

Pohang Steelers

Guangzhou Evergrande

Urawa Reds

Sydney FC

After missing out in 2015 Pohang have been placed in probably the toughest group of all the East Asian groups as they take on the might of Guangzhou Evergrande (self-proclaimed ‘biggest team in Asia’), a resurgent Urawa Reds team and Australia’s second placed Sydney FC. . The group is being dubbed ‘The Champions Group’ due to the number of  ACL crowns the teams have managed to accumulate through the years (Pohang – 3, Evergrande – 2, Urawa 1)

Like Suwon, Pohang also haven’t really strengthened over the close season and as a result will more than likely find themselves up against in from the off. Where Group G has the unknown in terms of Shanghai, there is no doubting both the experience and quality that Evergrande bring to the table. Their first match sees them travel to China to take on a team boasting Martinez, Paulinho, Goulart and Kim Young Gwon to name a few. They are also managed by the wily old Brazilian Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari who short of a disastrous spell at Chelsea has been an inspirational manager. Poahng can take heart from the fact that FC Seoul were hugely unlikely not to take something from the corresponding match last year. If they were to go one step further and return with something from the match then they might be able to build momentum.

In Urawa Reds they face a team that surely has a point to prove after last year’s poor showing where they finished bottom of their group with only one victory. It should be noted that at the same time as they were plodding around Asia they were romping up the J-League table and won the first half of the season relatively convincingly. They might not possess the ‘bums on seats’ names of Usami and Asano but they do have a solid core in the team and will probably look to players such as Kashiwagi to keep them composed and on track.

Like Urawa the final team in Pohang’s group are also more of a team than a collection of individuals. It’s their first time back in the ACL since 2011 when they finished some way off the pace from Suwon Bluewings and Kashima Antlers and they will be striving to make sure they are least still competing for second place when the second round of fixtures come around. They may not be the most glamourous team in the competition but it wasn’t that long ago that the legendary figure of Alessandro Del Piero was strutting his stuff in the sky blue.  As per most Australian teams they may suffer travelling away in Asia but they will make up for that at home, and with Pohang’s terrible record in Oz you would imagine they’d be good for a full haul of the points that match.

Pohang really have it all to do in this group, losing some of their best players to both China and the other K-League teams won’t help them. Add this to the fact they have a new manager and you can only see this campaign as a struggle.

Player to watch – hat-trick hero Shim Dong Woon

Predicted finish – 4th place

And then there was one…. an ACL Nightmare

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Only two weeks ago we were brimming with hope and dreaming of all-Korean quarter-finals, but with one flash of a 15M Brazilian’s head it was all over. In truth the writing was on the wall way before Ricardo Goulart evaded his Seongnam marker and nodded a corner beyond the flailing Park Jun Hyuk to send the millionaires through and the citizens out. For Suwon and especially Seoul their fates had been sealed after two quite shocking first leg defeats last week. So where did it all go wrong you have to ask.

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For Seongnam they will rue the missed chances both home and away with Kim Do Heon uncharacteristically snatching at a chance in China that had he shown composure would have taken it to extra time. They will obviously point fingers at a pretty shocking referee who couldn’t have favoured Evergrande more if he had been wearing their mascot’s costume. In fairness though, Seongnam may be out but they have gone further than many expected and have recorded some great results along the way no more so than defeating Evergrande with a 96th minute penalty in the 1st leg. For them it has been a success and keeping that amazing home record of theirs intact has been another highlight for them.

Suwon Badge

For Suwon they were always going to struggle to overturn that 3-2 home defeat but they did give it their best shot and had their fans in dreamland for just over 10 minutes as they managed to get themselves into the ‘two goals ahead’ position they needed to secure progress. Chong Tae Se and Yeom Ki Hun have been inspirational for them this tournament as has the team’s impressive goal scoring exploits, failing to score on only one occasion in the tournament and that was away in Beijing. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Jung in goals who has looked as stable as the chair I made in Tech class in high school. Quite why he has been brought straight back into the team after Noh Dong Geon had got them this far is a mystery.  The away goals rule is always a tough way to crash out of a tournament and really makes you wonder what the rule actually brings to the modern game.

FC Seoul Badge

Seoul probably can’t take a single positive from the tournament, sure they made it to the last 16 but year on year now they are exiting the tournament earlier and earlier. Their performance against Gamba Osaka was poor to say the least, a 3-1 defeat at home followed by a 3-2 defeat in Japan really highlights just how far they have fallen since they made the final back in 2013.  In a pre-match interview last week Choi had claimed he wanted to keep it tight at home and win/draw in Japan, he achieved neither and there surely must be tough questions being asked of him today. A lack of firepower up front has tended to be backed up by some schoolboy defending at the back and Choi really looks devoid of any ideas as to how to turn it around. In fact watching on from the sidelines last night he looked either disinterested or like he had been on the Soju, actually Cha Du Ri looked like he had joined him for a few bottles round the back of the stadium.

And so it all falls down to Jeonbuk to represent Korea for the rest of the tournament although they too will have to raise their game a little if they are to indeed bring the trophy home. But with some luck and the extra man their support brings to the table you never know.

 

The only way to watch the ACL
The only way to watch the ACL

 

ACL Last 16 Preview

afc_2012After six long and sometimes less than entertaining matches all four Korean teams emerged from the ACL group stages to live to fight another day. Unfortunately neither team was able to win their group and so all four play at home first over Tuesday and Wednesday this week. The only benefit from all four finishing second is that we avoided any all-Korean matches and so we might still see an all-Korean semi-final and ultimately a Korean team representing in the final come October. 

Jeonbuk Badge

Jeonbuk v Beijing 

Jeonbuk may be flying high in the K-League this season but they made heavy weather of their qualification for the last 16. After a good start, notching up 7 points from 9, they then huffed and puffed and eventually finished second behind Kashiwa Reysol. Finishing second earned them a match against Beijing and of course another chance for ex-Seoul hero Dejan to put a Korean team to the sword. He will once again be the main threat from Beijing and if Jeonbuk can keep him quiet they have a chance of pulling off the result they need. Dejan aside, if Jeonbuk are to progress to the next round they will need to shake of the inconsistency of the group stage and show the form that has them sitting atop the K-League.

Prediction : Beijing to edge it over two legs.

Suwon Badge

Suwon v Kashiwa Reysol

Suwon were probably the best Korean team in the group stages and would have topped their group easily if they had been in any other group. Great results at home to Urawa Reds and Brisbane Roar were cemented by good away results against both teams too. It really was their failure to beat Beijing that thwarted them. Against Reysol they find themselves up against a team that look tough to beat without perhaps possessing the flair players that Suwon do. If players such as Cheong Tae Se and Yum Ki Hyun play to their best then you would think Suwon would have too much for their Japanese counterparts.

Prediction : Suwon to progress to the next round. 

FC Seoul Badge

FC Seoul v Gamba Osaka

Much has been made of Seoul’s poor form in the K-League this season with some calling for Choi’s head but in the ACL they have shown just enough to suggest that they aren’t going to go out of this tournament meekly. A tactic of keeping it tight at home wasn’t exactly pleasant for the fans to watch with only the single goal scored and zero conceded. They did produce two good results away in Sydney and Tokyo to progress and few can forget the scenes of Cha and Molina celebrating as they clinched a dramatic last 16 spot with the last kick of the ball in Japan. Having watched Gamaba both home and away against Seongnam I think they are definitely beatable. A lot hinges on the home result in Seoul, if they can take a narrow lead to Osaka they should find themselves in the next round.

Prediction : Seoul to just edge this one, might even go to penalties. 

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Seongnam FC v Guangzhou Evergrande

The citizens take on the millionaires in what should be a real battle of wits between Kim Hak Bum and Fabio Cannavaro. Few outside of the Seongnam support thought they would get this far especially after losing in Thailand in the opening group match but Kim has proven to be a tactical match for whoever he has come up against. Home victories over Gamba and Buriram sandwiched a goalless draw against Guangzhou’s poor cousins R&F. They could and probably should have won their group but for a lapse in concentration in Japan with 5 minutes left on the clock. Evergrande though will prove to be the toughest test yet for the wily old fox and he will need to rely on all his experience if he is to guide them into the last 8. Kim Do Heon and Hwang Uijo will be vital to his plans and if they can get a decent result at Fortress Tancheon you never know what might happen in China.

Prediction : A tight one that might also need penalties to decide it. Heart says Seongnam, head says Evergrande. 

Gamba Osaka v Seongnam FC – May 6th 2015 – ACL Group Stage

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It was the last round of the ACL group stages and Seongnam were already through, needing only a point to secure top spot and a potential last 16 clash against FC Seoul, but still I decided to throw my Seongnam scarf and  a few t-shirts in a bag and make the short trip to Osaka.

I booked in for three days in total fully intending on sampling all Osaka had to offer, by roughly 3pm on the first day it became obvious my sight-seeing was going to be restricted to Sake bars and sashimi restaurants.

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I have a friend in Osaka and quickly after dropping off my bag at the amazingly cheap yet centrally located Toyoko Inn in Noda I made my way to Osaka Castle to meet him. It didn’t take long to realize that my friend hadn’t quite planned a tour of historical sites and museums to satisfy my hunger for cultural immersion.Within an hour I was on my third Mexican beer, second plate of Peruvian meat and just about keeping away from the Tequila tent, yes I was indeed at a pretty huge Latin American festival. A few Portuguese-Brazilian bands later and it was time to head back to Noda for a quick change and out to find some ‘raw fish’.

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The first of several such establishments!

After dinner it was time to find a bar and hopefully settle down to watch Kashima Antlers take on FC Seoul, unfortunately Japan seems to have even less interest in televising football than Korea and I had to settle for watching text updates on Naver.com. The one of advantage of this was that at least I got to “see” Molina score Seoul’s third, and winning, goal. Apparently SBS lost the stream and nobody back in Korea was able to watch as Seoul grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat and secured their place in the next round.

A few more of Japan’s finest watering holes were visited before a trip back towards Noda and then the bright idea of “one for the road”. This took me into a rather dodgy area, if Osaka has such, and the confines of a small but cozy bar. It’s amazing how confident alcohol can make you and it wasn’t long before I was conversing with the locals like I had spent my youth there. The sober truth is that “Shunsuke Nakamura, yeah”, “Ki Seung Yeung, yeah”, “Celtic, Seongnam” is probably not going to get me on Japan’s Got Talent anytime soon.

Wednesday woke me up with all the subtlety of being awakened by a group of circus clowns bouncing on my bed. Of course today was a long day and as a veteran of long away days I knew just how best to approach this one. Coffee, followed by some fruit and cereal and then a long walk to clear the head and a constant supply of Gatorade was in order. My friend, Keunseok, unfortunately had different ideas and met me at Nipombashi station with a can of Yebisu Beer in hand and so it began.

The day was one of more raw fish and beer with the occasional meeting up with fellow Seongnam fans. We made our way to the stadium around 4pm, it is quite a hike. Gamba play in the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium which is on the Osaka Monorail. It isn’t the easiest of places to find and I was really glad that my friend speaks Japanese as otherwise I might still be aimlessly wandering the subway system trying to find it.

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Expo Stadium from the monorail

We arrived pretty early at the stadium which gave us plenty of time to get tickets and have a look around the impressive array of food tents on the way to the ground itself. On the way to the stadium I bumped into @JSoccerMagazine who helped us secure a couple of tickets for the Seongnam end. And so with our bounty intact we headed back down to the tents and one final Asahi and a pretty amazing Bacon Quarterpounder (at least I think that’s what it was).

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After the culinary delights of the tents had been exhausted we began to make our way back towards the stadium for what we hoped would be both a night of good football and success for Seongnam, unfortunately the two seem to be mutually exclusive at times. Walking back up to the ground it became obvious that there were quite a few Seongnam fans in attendance, in fact by my guess more than had made the subway trip to Seoul World Cup Stadium only a few days earlier.

Gamba flags line the walkway
Gamba flags line the walkway

Once inside the stadium we got settled originally in the best vantage point we could find but then decided to go down in among the singing and dancing group of black t-shirts that made up the main section of the Seongnam support. Just like at Sangnam the group leaders did a fantastic job of keeping the energy level up and the songs flowing, even at one point convincing me to attempt the lead a chorus of the ‘Seongnam Kapo’.

The game started well with both teams testing and pressing their opponents, Seongnam had done this to perfection in the home tie and looked to have opted for a similar tactic again in Japan. Although moving to join the main group of fans had improved my atmosphere at the match it has basically destroyed my view. Apart from being level with the pitch, throw in a running track and my not exactly eagle-eye vision and basically I could have seen as much from my hotel room. And so it was that when the ‘Slayer of Gamba’, Hwang Uijo, crashed an unstoppable effort into the net on 15 mins I had missed the goal. So much so that an AFC video showing the best 10 goals of the group stages does actually have a clip of the Seongnam crowd with me asking my friend who scored. The rest of the half was played out with both teams continuing to nullify each other for the most part. HT came and it was Seongnam who went in 1-0 up and looked like they had top spot secured. For being the J-League champions I haven’t been impressed with Gamba in the two matches I’ve seen and I definitely think FC Seoul are in with a decent chance of putting them out.

My view!
My view!

The second half was pretty much as we expected, Seongnam sat back to soak up and hit on the break and Gamba became desperate, knowing that a draw could dent their hopes of seeing the next round. They pulled one back on 65 mins through Usami and then with time running out and everyone in black getting ready to celebrate winning the group Gamba’s Brazilian Lins slotted the ball away and rounded off the scoring. I was a little disappointed to say the least at FT as having led for so long it was a bitter pill to swallow to see us throw it away. But as my friend said we are in the last 16 and now have to get ready for the giants of Guangzhou Evergrande who visit Tancheon first on May 20th.

After the match we parted company and I decided to sample some more of what Noda had to offer, an incredible mouth-burning Coco Curry, I should have listened to the waitress when she said it was spicy, was followed up by another trip to the previous night’s Sake bar to help promote Scottish relations.

The trip was amazing, it was everything that I hoped it would be and probably more. The result aside the match was amazing. Japanese fans are incredibly passionate about supporting their teams and their Ultras are pretty impressive both in numbers and noise. The Seongnam fans did their team proud and it was amazing to be in the middle of their support winning, drawing and even losing.

Gamba Ultras
Gamba Ultras

The news that all four Korean teams made it through to the last 16 is fantastic and looking at the fixtures you would have to imagine there could be at least one all-Korean match in the next round. Here’s hoping Seongnam are there although after this experience I kind of hope there is one more away day to go to.

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The original view

 

 

ACL Matchday 4 Preview

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This week sees the return of the ACL and with it some huge matches that might just dictate which teams need to check their passport expiry dates and which ones can put them back in the drawer until next year. All four Korean teams go into their fixtures on the back of victories and confidence should be high.

FC Seoul Badge

Western City Wanderers v FC Seoul (Tuesday)

FC Seoul face a tough journey to Sydney in a match that will surely decide their Champions League fate. The last time the two teams met they played out one of the most uneventful 0-0 draws I’ve ever seen. The highlight of that game being me convincing the staff in the GS inside the stadium not to decant my beer into a paper cup. Seoul don’t have a great record on Australian soil and are going to have to pull out all the stops to try and reverse that record. They sit 3rd in the group behind WSW on goal difference and will need to ensure they don’t lose if they are to have any hope of continuing in the tournament. They did manage to snatch their first domestic victory this weekend and this should have given them a much needed boost before boarding the plane. They face a WSW side who are also struggling domestically, another 2pts dropped this weekend in a 1-1 home draw with Melbourne City. It is a ‘must win’ match for both teams, or maybe that should be a ‘can’t lose’ match for both. With home advantage Wanderers should be feeling the more comfortable of the two. Can they make that count more in the ACL than the A-League is the question that will be answered on Tuesday.

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Seongnam v Guangzhou R&F (Tuesday)

One of the surprise results of the last round of matches was Seongnam’s 1-0 victory in China, though not that anyone saw the goal due to ridiculous broadcasting by KBS. The return match at Tancheon should be another great match. Seongnam’s domestic form has been as shaky as Delia Smith’s voice after a few too many. They did manage to put 4 past Daejeon at the weekend and Kim Do Heon in particular excelled in that match going home with the match ball. Guangzhou will be a much sterner test than Daejeon though, although in fairness so would the 7 aside team that plays out of Scrooge Bar in Itaewon. Guangzhou come into the match on the back of a 1-1 home draw with Jiangsu courtesy of a last minute Lu Lin equalizer. They currently sit 7th in the table some 6pts behind Bejing in the ACL spot and they’ll know a defeat in Tancheon would leave them an uphill struggle to get out the group. An Australian betting site has Seongnam as 4th favourites to win the ACL this season and a lot of that is based on their amazing home record in this tournament. They will need to be at their best to keep that record intact on Tuesday but if they do then surely they have one foot in the knockout stages.

Suwon Badge

Suwon v Brisbane Roar (Wednesday)

The last time these teams met it finished 3-3 in probably the best match of the tournament so far. Suwon were two behind in that one before taking the lead only to see Brisbane equalize with 10 minutes left on the clock. As we so often see in the K-League Suwon are a tough nut to crack at home as Busan found out this weekend. They seem to have an impressive ‘never say die’ attitude and have both come from behind and scored winners in the last minute on more than one occasion this season. In Brisane though they are playing a team who seem to have found their shooting boots again, as their 6-1 humbling at the weekend of Central Coast Mariners proved. Suwon will need to keep their wits about them in this one as there is no doubt that Roar are a dangerous team and can be a handful. The fact that Suwon managed to put three past them in Brisbane should give them a confidence boost going into the home match. They are level on points with Roar and you would imagine that if either team can get the victory on Wednesday then they might just have done enough to secure themselves second spot in the group.

Jeonbuk Badge

Binh Duong v Jeonbuk

The last time these teams met was a relatively straight forward canter for Jeonbuk. They might only have scored the 3 goals but in reality it could have been any number. A victory on Wednesday paired with results going the right way in the other match and Jeonbuk will be in the next round. Jeonbuk prepared for this match with a tough 1-0 home victory over Pohang. They currently sit second in the table behind Ulsan on goal difference and although they haven’t really hit top form in the league yet they do look like a cut apart from most teams. Binh Duong also come into the match on the back of  a 1-0 home victory. They defeated Hanoi T&T at the weekend and currently sit atop the Vietnamese league 2pts clear of Quang Ninh. They’ll be hoping to put up a better show than when they came to Korea that’s for sure but if Jeonbuk are on fire then it could be a long night for the hosts.

 

 

 

Korea’s ACL So Far

We are at the halfway stage of the ACL and all four Korean teams have played 3 matches. Which ones have had the start dreams are made of and which ones need to wake up and sort themselves out as soon as possible.

Group E
Teams P W D L GF GA GD PTS
JEONBUK HYUNDAI MOTORS (KOR) 3 2 1 0 7 1 6 7
KASHIWA REYSOL (JPN) 3 2 1 0 7 2 5 7
SHANDONG LUNENG FC (CHN) 3 1 0 2 5 8 -3 3
BINH DUONG (VIE) 3 0 0 3 3 11 -8 0

After a shaky opening at home to Kashiwa Reysol, Jeonbuk have responded with two fantastic victories notching up 7 goals along the way. When the group stage was drawn Jeonbuk had by far the easiest of the groups handed to Korean teams so it isn’t exactly surprising that they sit atop the pile. But it’s not so much their position in the table that has impressed as much as the manner in which they have gone about their business. Sure they started with a 0-0 at home to Kashiwa but in all honestly that was as much down to some ‘interesting’ calls from the men in black as anything Kashiwa brought to the table. Since that opening match they have run out 4-1 victors in China followed by a 3-0 home victory over the whipping boys of the group Binh Duong. With their next game an away against Binh Duong in Vietnam followed by a trip to Japan and a final home match with Shandong it would take something exceptional from the other teams to stop them being in the next round.

 

Group F
Teams P W D L GF GA GD PTS
BURIRAM UNITED (THA) 3 2 1 0 5 3 2 7
SEONGNAM FC (KOR) 3 2 0 1 4 2 2 6
GUANGZHOU R&F (CHN) 3 1 0 2 3 3 0 3
GAMBA OSAKA (JPN) 3 0 1 2 1 5 -4 1

Seongnam like Jeonbuk didn’t have the best of openings to their ACL adventure. They lost 2-1 away to Thai champions in a match that earned them criticism from the media and fans alike. Most criticism was laid at the door of the defence who had defended like they had just met each other for the first time. Next up they faced off against Japanese champions Gamba Osaka at”Fortress Tancheon”. Few in attendance that night expected such a resounding victory as Kim Hak Bum got his tactics spot on. If the match against the Japanese was unexpected their victory in China over Guangzhou R&F was something amazing. Pre-match predictions suggested that the Chinese would have too much for Kim’s boys. That thought was given added fuel when they turned up for training to be met with an unplayable training surface. With little real preparation before the match the odds were stacked against them, but then again they do have Hwang Uijo to balance those odds. Another ACL start and another wonder goal from Hwang set Seongnam on their way to all 3pts. They now sit 3 clear of Guangzhou with two back to back home matches to come. If they can keep their wits about them and keep the “fortress” fortified then you would have to imagine they’ll be home and dry before the fans board their flights to Osaka early May.

 

Group G
Teams P W D L GF GA GD PTS
BEIJING GUOAN (CHN) 3 3 0 0 4 0 4 9
SUWON SAMSUNG FC (KOR) 3 1 1 1 5 5 0 4
BRISBANE ROAR (AUS) 3 1 1 1 4 4 0 4
URAWA RED DIAMONDS (JPN) 3 0 0 3 1 5 -4 0

Suwon’s return to the Champions League was always going to excite their fans but when they were thrown together with ex-FC Seoul idol Dejan Damjanovic it was escalated beyond just an ACL campaign. Add in A-League champions Brisbane Roar and the infamous Urawa Reds and we were surely in for a roller coaster of a group. Suwon opened their journey with a comeback victory against Urawa, as famous for a banner in the Suwon end as for the quality on the pitch. Next up they had the short trip to Bejing to lock horns once again with Dejan. Unfortunately for Suwon the Montenegrin would emerge victor and in the process score the only goal of the match. After the disappoint of Bejing they traveled to Brisbane for what would become the match of the tournament so far. 2-0 down early in the first half they battled back again to take a 3-2 lead. With 10 mins left Brisbane scored the final goal of the match to level it at 3-3 and set up a mouthwatering match back at The Big Bird in a couple of weeks time. A trip to Japan against a struggling Urawa follows that game with a final showdown against a Bejing team that should already be in the next round. A victory at home to Brisbane and avoid defeat at Urawa should probably  see them in the next round.

 

Group H
Teams P W D L GF GA GD PTS
GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE (CHN) 3 3 0 0 8 5 3 9
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS (AUS) 3 1 1 1 5 4 1 4
FC SEOUL (KOR) 3 1 1 1 1 1 0 4
KASHIMA ANTLERS (JPN) 3 0 0 3 4 8 -4 0

When the group stages were drawn Seoul could have been forgiven for staring down the draw representatives. Not only had they been paired with the team that knocked them out at the semi final stage last year they also had the luxury of facing up to the team that defeated them in the final in 2013. Throw in Kashima Antlers for good measure and this was surely the dreaded ‘group of death’.  The first match saw them travel to China to face an Evergrande team that boasted new signing Alan who was the Europa League’s top scorer when he made the move East. Despite a battling display they ended up with a 1-0 defeat. A home victory against Kashima Antlers followed though and with it some hope that Seoul had kick-started their campaign unfortunately this hope lasted all of one game and after a goalless and pretty much action-less 0-0 home draw against Western Sydney Wanderers they find themselves in a pretty precarious position. An away match against WSW followed by Evergrande at home must result in a minimum of 4 pts for Seoul otherwise they will be looking for others to help them out to keep their dreams alive.