K-League Classic 2017 Round 31 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures.

The K-League Classic Round 28 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

Last week saw a rather surprising set of results as first Seoul fell to Incheon on Sunday before the all-conquering Jeonbuk crashed to a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of the Army on Wednesday. Wednesday actually saw one of, if not THE, highest scoring round of fixtures in my time in Korea as 25 goals were scored in a set of fixtures which  had some rather choice defending and some incredibly poor goalkeeping…. Shin Hwa Yong I’m looking at you. 

This weekend sees another round of fixtures that could have huge implications at both ends of the table. On Saturday we have…..

Incheon United vs. Suwon Bluewings @ 6pm

First up we have a Derby match as Incheon welcome Suwon Bluewings to home in what are usually fiercely contested battles. Incheon, amazingly,  are unbeaten in their last six matches and even more amazingly have only conceded the one goal which was against Sangju. They have chosen the exact right time to find form as they find themselves locked in a four-way battle to avoid the playoffs. They defeated rivals Seoul last Sunday, Song Si Woo being the last minute hero that day. Suwon have watched their slim title hopes dwindle away ever since Johnathan got injured against Seoul and have lost three of their last five with the most recent being a 3-2 defeat at home to Jeju United. That game witnessed one of the worst goalkeeping errors I’ve seen as a long punt up the pitch somehow bounced past the hapless Shin in goal. When you are missing the league’s best striker it’s not wise to give your opponents a goal of a start. Suwon haven’t lost this fixture this year and romped home 3-0 winners the last time they met….but then Johnathan scored a fantastic brace that day!

Prediction:  Away Win : Incheon 1 – Suwon  2

Ulsan Hyundai vs. Jeonnam Dragons @ 6pm

Next up on Saturday is a match which should be as easy to predict as my drink of choice in a Soju tent in Yeouido as Ulsan and Jeonnam clash. Ulsan are strong at home and are enjoying a relatively solid patch of form with one the one defeat in the last two months, although it’s probably the draws that are hampering their title charge. They have found their shooting boots of late and you have to go all the way back to early July for the last time they failed to find the net. They sit just 6pts adrift of Jeonbuk and a win today could heap the pressure on them.  Jeonnam are quite the the polar opposite of Ulsan, they have lost three in of their last five and in fact haven’t won since the start of August. They are getting dragged into the playoff battle but unlike Incheon and Daegu they don’t really look like tough opponents. Ulsan will definitely be favorites here even though Jeonnam destroyed them 5-0 earlier in the season.

Prediction:  Home Win: Ulsan 2 – Jeonnam 0

Sangju Sangmu vs. Jeju United @ 7pm

The final match on Saturday sees Sangju Sangmu and Jeju United face off after both teams recorded vital victories midweek. Sangju dug deep to come back from 1-0 down at Jeonbuk as first Joo Min Kyu then Kim Ho Nam found the net to give them a much needed 3pts. Joo’s goal has seen the campaign to get him in the National Team getting mentioned again as he is beginning to find his feet in the army and ultimately the Classic. They still have a long way to go to secure a place at next season’s top table but that is now two wins in a row and an 11pt gap over Gwangju.  Their opponents today though are THE in-form team of the moment, and have won eight and drawn two of their last ten games. It’s that kind of form that’s been needed to keep pace with Jeonbuk and after midweek Jeju find themselves only 3pts behind the league leaders. A win today would heap a whole lot of pressure on the boys from Jeonju and as we saw last year they don’t exactly excel under pressure. Jeju again had the form of Yoon Bitgaram to thank for their winning ways and the decision to bring him back in the summer is proving to be a cracking piece of business. Jeju have won the previous two meetings by three goals, 3-0 and 4-1 but today could be a little closer.

Prediction:  Away Win : Sangju 1 – Jeju 2

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K-League Classic 2017 Round 29 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

The K-League Classic Round 28 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

With the split fast approaching we are entering that period where every point becomes a prisoner as some teams look to define their season by which half of the table they finish in. For Gangwon, failure to land a top six spot would be embarrassing after their pre-season wheelings and dealings, for Pohang it would confirm that last year wasn’t a blip and they are in fact no longer a giant of Korean football. Of course for others the split throws up different concerns with Jeonbuk aiming for a title and Gwangju aiming for survival.

 

This Saturday we see a massive clash at the bottom while Gangwon and Suwon have the chance to put some pressure on those teams above them.

Gangwon vs. Jeonnam Dragons @ 3pm

The early game on Saturday afternoon is between two of the sides that are vying for probably the final spot in the Championship Group as 6th placed Gangwon and 8th placed Jeonnam Dragons clash.  Gangwon lost at the weekend to Jeonbuk Hyundai in what can only be described as a goal-fest as the fans were treated to a 4-3 win for the league leaders and an incredible seven minute hat-trick from Lee Seung Ki. Gangwon have continued their early season erratic form and have only two wins from their last five. They are still managerless and it’s safe to say the ‘Orange Experiment’ hasn’t exactly been a roaring success. They do sit 6pts clear in sixth place though and should really see themselves happy come the split. Jeonnam also lost last weekend as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Suwon Bluewings. Their form has been poor of late and they now have only one win from five. Jeonnam haven’t lost this year to Gangwon and there have been goals in both games, there should be more today.

 

Prediction:  Home Win : Gangwon 2 – Jeonnam 0

Sangju Sangmu vs. Gwangju @ 7pm

The second game of the day, and one of the final evening kick-offs of 2017,  is a huge match at the foot of the table as the bottom two teams meet. Sangju got yet another pasting last weekend as they were defeated 4-2 by Ulsan and you have to almost go back to the pre-Trump era to find their last win! They have been a real disappointment and now that they are beginning to drip feed players back to their parent clubs they can only get worse. Gwangju find themselves 5 pts below Sangju going into the match but at least managed to stop their losing streak when they drew last weekend vs. Incheon. They, like Sangju, have been woeful all season and you get the feeling that the players have resigned themselves to a season in The Challenge next year. Sangju have won both matches this year and might just have the mental edge….but then again Gwangju have Kim Hak Bum pulling the reins now and he doesn’t like to lose.

 

Prediction:  Draw : Sangju 0 – Gwangju 0

Daegu vs. Suwon Bluewings @ 7pm

The final game of the day is a clash which on paper should be a forgone conclusion but in reality has all the potential to see an upset as Daegu welcome The Bluewings to town. Daegu seem to have freed themselves, slightly, from the shackles of the relegation battle and Suwon are still hoping for a league and cup double however unlikely that may be. Daegu come into the match on the back of a huge victory over Pohang in a game with as many red cards as goals. They are undefeated in four games and their Brazilian coach Andre really has them difficult to beat while dangerous on the front foot.  Bluewings got a much needed win last weekend what they skelped Jeonnam 3-0 with the diminutive Santos among the goals. There were huge concerns for the blue massive after Jonathan’s injury but the 2014 Golden Boot winner has stepped up to the plate to ease their fears. Bluewings won the last fixture 3-0 but this one should be closer.

Prediction: Away Win: Daegu 1 – Bluewings 2

K-League Classic 2017 Round 12 Previews – Saturday Fixtures

The K-League Classic 2017 Round 12 Previews

This weekend sees the first round of evening fixtures as the heat gets too much for running around in the afternoon, although based on some recent performances we could have delayed it a little longer.

The League table going into Week 12

 

Ulsan Hyundai vs. Jeonnam Dragons @ 6pm

First up is the clash between Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonnam Dragons as two of the best performing teams of late clash. Ulsan started their 2017 campaign rather poorly but have since mounted an assault on the top of the table and have mustered three wins in the last four. They draw 0-0 against Jeonbuk last weekend but continued their strong run of form midweek by dispatching runaway Challenge leaders Gyeongnam from the FA Cup. Jeonnam have stuttered a little in the league recently and fell to a crushing 3-1 home defeat to Suwon Bluewings last week. They did however win in the cup on Wednesday as they knocked Daejeon out courtesy of a 2-1 victory. Jeonnam utterly embarrassed Ulsan last time out as they battered them 5-0, Jair the hero that day.

Prediction: Home Win : Ulsan  2 – Jeonnam 1

FC Seoul vs. Gangwon @ 7pm

The 1st of the 7 o’clock game comes from Seoul World Cup Stadium as FC Seoul host Gangwon in a match they hope will bring some much needed smile to their supporter’s faces. Out the ACL, trailing in the league, all eyes were on the FA Cup as they hoped to make it four finals in four years. Alas that wasn’t to be as they lost on penalties to a plucky Busan team to potentially consign themselves to a first trophy-less season since 2014. They come into the game on the back of a 2-2 draw away to Sangju in a match they twice came from behind in. Gangwon have begun to look a little better in the league over the past couple of weeks and have won two in a row, that ‘purple patch’ however was halted midweek as they crashed out of the cup at home to Seongnam FC. When the teams met in early March it was Seoul who emerged the victors as they came home with a 1-0 victory, a similarly tight contest again wouldn’t surprise anyone.

Prediction:  Home Win : Seoul 1 – Gangwon 0

Sangju Sangmu vs. Suwon Bluewings @ 7pm

Next up we have 8th versus 5th as Sangju Sangmu welcome Suwon Bluewings to town. Sangju slipped out of the top half of the table last weekend as they were held at home to Seoul, although in fairness that result did see them stop a two game losing streak becoming three. They gathered themselves together midweek to beat challenge side Bucheon and knock them out of the FA Cup in what was being tipped, by some, as a potential ‘giant killing’ for Bucheon. The Bluewings have won four from the last five in the league and find themselves above rivals FC Seoul in the table for the first time in quite a while. They won at Jeonnam last week as forgotten man Santos reminded Seo Jung Won exactly why he won the Golden Boot a mere three seasons ago. The last time the teams met it finished 0-0 and there really isn’t much between the two on paper.

Prediction : Draw : Sangju 1 Bluewings 1

 

Daegu vs. Jeju United @ 7pm

The final game on Saturday evening is a top v bottom clash as lowly Daegu host 2nd placed Jeju United. Daegu have now lost three games in a row and are firmly caught up in the relegation battle as many expected. They aren’t actually as poor a team as their league position would suggest and have scored twice the number of goals that 10th placed Gwangju have, but it’s their inability to keep the ball out of their own net that is costing them dearly. Jeju stumbled last weekend as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Pohang. That was only their 2nd defeat of the season and will more than likely be seen by most as merely a blip. They are an incredibly dangerous team and given the aforementioned defensive frailties of Daegu, could run up the proverbial cricket score this weekend.  The last time the teams met it was a rip-roaring 4-2 victory for Jeju with all six goals coming from foreign players.

Prediction : Away Win : Daegu 1 – Jeju 3

K-League Classic 2017 Week 6 Previews

 

If there is one thing that we learned form Round 5 it’s that when football sucks it REALLY sucks as we witnessed only two wins last weekend with all four matches on the Saturday finishing with the points shared. The hotly anticipated Seoul/Jeju match in particular did more to increase alcohol sales then any 4 for 10,000W GS promo could never achieve. 

There are only two matches being played on the Saturday this weekend due to the midweek ACL exertions. 

Incheon United vs. Jeonnam Dragons @ 3pm

First up on Saturday is a trip to Incheon Football Stadium where Incheon United welcome bottom side Jeonnam Dragons to town in a battle of the ‘winless’. Incheon have lost twice and drawn three times so far this season but have played better than their record would suggest to be honest. They have shown a battling quality when needed but unfortunately have also been suicidal at the back at times. They lost 2-0 down at Pohang last Sunday although they played the whole 2nd half with ten men. Han Suk Jong was sent off in controversial circumstances and that red card has since been rescinded.  Jeonnam  have had an alarmingly poor start to the season losing all of their matches so far, shipping twelve goals in the process. Last weekend they lost in Daegu which could have been so much worse if Incheon hadn’t also lost. Last season Jeonnam were undefeated in this fixture and the head to head says they are pretty much on a par.
Prediction: Draw : Incheon 1 – Jeonnam 1

 

Pohang Steelers vs. Daegu @ 3pm

The second game of the day comes from The Steelyard as a resurgent Pohang Steelers host new boys Daegu. Pohang seem to have have managed to put last year’s horrendous season behind them and have had a pretty sweet start to the season winning three games while being the league’s highest scorers to boot with ten goals in five games. A lot of their success comes down to the goal scoring exploits of Yang Dong Hyun who has hit the net four times already. Daegu have surprised more than a few people this year with their performances so far and are undefeated since the opening game of the season with three draws before their victory over Jeonnam last weekend. They currently occupy 7th spot, only the solitary point adrift of Ulsan in 6th. Pohang won the last four meetings between the teams and in fact have only lost five times in thirty-two matches.
Prediction: Home Win : Pohang 2 – Incheon 1

Quickly on to the Super Sunday and we have Jeonbuk joining the four ACL teams in what should be a fantastic day of football….well unless like me you are at Tancheon!

 

Jeonbuk Hyundai vs. Sangju Sangmu @ 3pm

The first 3 o’clock kick off on Sunday comes from the Jeonju Civil Stadium as Jeonbuk play host to Sangju. Jeonbuk have started the season well and have won three and drawn two of their opening five  games as they bid to reclaim their crown. They have been blessed by some stellar performances from full-back Kim Jin Su who has made the official K-League ‘Team of the Week’ four out of the five so far. He has definitely been the ‘buy of the season’. They drew last week with The Wookie scoring, Kim Jin Su the supplier.  Sangju are replicating their fine 2016 form and are currently sitting pretty in 4th place after going undefeated since losing their opening match. They drew 0-0 at The Big Bird last weekend and definitely have players capable of pulling something special out the bag. Jeonbuk won both home ties last year with an emphatic 4-1 victory towards the end of the season

Prediction: Home Win : Jeonbuk 1 – Sangju 0

Jeju United vs. Gangwon @ 3pm

Next up we travel to the island paradise of Jeju and to Seogwipo, as Jeju United host Gangwon as league leaders take on 8th place. Jeju looked almost unbeatable in the early weeks of the season winning their opening three games also looking impressive in the ACL and it’s unfair to say the wheels have come off but their form of late hasn’t been great. They have drawn their last two league matches albeit against Jeonbuk and Seoul respectively but they lost 3-1 at home to Adelaide in the ACL midweek.  Gangwon haven’t won since the opening game of the season and all that pre-season bluster seems to be blowing up in their face. Last time the teams met was in 2013 with Gangwon winning 3-0 that day, although the head to head is slightly in Jeju’s favour.
Prediction: Home Win : Jeju 2 – Gangwon 1

Suwon Bluewings vs. Gwangju @ 3pm

Our third Super Sunday battle comes from The Big Bird of Suwon World Cup Stadium, where Suwon Bluewings welcome Gwangju. For a team predicted by many to be title contenders The Bluewings have been woeful in the league and are still searching for that elusive first league win. The have drawn four times and lost the other. However their ACL form has been much better with them hammering Hong Kong’s Eastern 5-0 during the week. Gwangju are one of those footballing enigmas, they aren’t great but the aren’t bad either, they are more than capable of pulling off an upset when they are on their game. They came from behind last weekend to snatch a point against Ulsan and might just have enough about to get something in this one too. They drew three times last year with Gwangju winning the fourth clash.

Prediction: Draw : Suwon 1 – Gwangju 1

Ulsan Hyundai vs. FC Seoul @ 3pm

The final game of the day and probably the highlight of the weekend comes from Ulsan as two ACL teams go head to head in the battle of 6th v 5th. Ulsan have had yet another mixed bag of a season, retching from the sublime to the downright ordinary.  They come into the match on the back of a 1-1 league draw at home to Gwangju and a confidence-destroying 1-0 defeat in Thailand in the ACL. With the players at their disposal there is no hiding from the fact they are under performing. Seoul  have also struggled this year and were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Jeju last weekend. They did come back from Australia with all 3pts after defeating WSW 3-2 but even that victory was marred as they conceded two late goals. Even though Dejan scored a brace in the match it was his Brazilian strike partner Maurinho who took all the plaudits as he put in a performance that could and should see him start this one. Seoul had the upper hand over their hosts last season wining twice, with both teams midweek exploits we could see a couple of tired teams on the pitch.
Prediction: Draw : Ulsan 1 – Seoul 1

ACL 2017 Round 3 Previews

 

Asian Champions League Round 3 – Previews

As we approach round 3 and the halfway stage in this year’s ACL it’s safe to say that it’s not been all plain sailing for the Korean teams, I’m looking at you FC Seoul, and there is still a lot of work to be done if we are to have an interest beyond the summer months. It’s not been all doom and gloom though and there have been a couple of stand-out results with Jeju and Ulsan catching the eye in Round 2

 

 

Teams P W D L GF GA GD PTS
MUANGTHONG UNITED (THA) 2 1 1 0 2 1 1 4
KASHIMA ANTLERS (JPN) * 2 1 0 1 3 2 1 3
ULSAN HYUNDAI FC (KOR) * 2 1 0 1 6 2 4 3
BRISBANE ROAR (AUS) 2 0 1 1 0 6 -6 1

Ulsan v Muangthong United (Tuesday 19:30)

Ulsan come into the match on the back of a resounding hammering of Brisbane Roar in the last round, a 6-0 hammering to be precise. That was one of those matches where everything just seems to click and that coupled with some suicidal defending meant it was an easy night for the Koreans. They unfortunately got a taste of their own medicine at the weekend as Jeju sent them packing with a 3-0 victory on the island. Muangthong followed up their draw in Australia with a hard-fought 2-1 home victory a 95th minute strike from Xisco sending the home players and fans into a frenzy. They look a tough team to beat and Ulsan can’t have it as easy again as when Roar came to town.

Prediction : Home Win : Ulsan 1 – Muangthong 0

 

Teams P W D L GF GA GD PTS
GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE FC (CHN) 2 1 1 0 9 2 7 4
SUWON BLUEWINGS (KOR) 2 0 2 0 3 3 0 2
KAWASAKI FRONTALE (JPN) 2 0 2 0 2 2 0 2
EASTERN FC (HK) 2 0 1 1 1 8 -7 1

Eastern FC v Suwon Bluewings (Tuesday 20:00)

Suwon Bluewings seem to have started the K-League and indeed the ACL exactly like they did in 2016, looking unable to hold on to victory and see a match out. They were leading against both Seoul and Evergrande this season before throwing both matches away and having to settle for a share of the points. On Sunday they were outplayed at home by Jeonbuk and lost 2-0 and are already making fools of pre-season tips for the title. They seem to rely heavily on Jonathon and he has been misfiring so far, although he did score their second against Evergrande in Round 2. You would on paper think that this match should be one that they should sail through with relative ease but then it’s the Bluewings and easy doesn’t seem to come naturally for them. Eastern bounced back from their 7-0 humbling in China in Round 1  to record their first goal and points in the ACL, a Bleda penalty, it will be interesting to see if they can put another heroic show tonight.

Prediction : Away Win : Eastern 0 – Bluewings 2

 

Teams P W D L GF GA GD PTS
URAWA RED DIAMONDS (JPN) 2 2 0 0 9 2 7 6
SUHANGHAI SIPG (CHN) 2 2 0 0 6 1 5 6
FC SEOUL (KOR) 2 0 0 2 2 6 -4 0
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS 2 0 0 2 1 9 -8 0

FC Seoul v Western Sydney Wanderers (Wednesday 19:30)

In a match that could almost be billed as a damp squib even this early in the tournament we see Seoul welcome WSW to home in what can only be a ‘must-win’ match for both teams after their woeful starts. Seoul were swept aside easily in the first half in Japan against a rampant Urawa team who scored four goals in the first 21 minutes in their Round 2 encounter. Seoul looked devoid of ideas in that match although it was the performance or rather a lack of one from Yoo Hyun in goals which made all the headlines. He looked like both a rabbit caught in headlights and a cat being thrown a ball (thanks Paul Neat for that last comment) as he flapped at and jumped over every ball that came his way. It truly was a night to forget for Seoul’s number 1. Seoul do come into the match unbeaten after two games in the K-League and that might just give them the belief this week. If Seoul’s defeat in Japan was bad WSW’s home thrashing by SIPG was horrendous. Out-thought, out-fought and out-played for the whole game they struggled to resemble a team that was lifting this trophy only a few years back. It’s been a poor start for both teams but WSW do have the added boost that Seoul have never beaten them home or away, that might just play on the host’s minds.

Prediction : Home Win : Seoul 2 – WSW 1

 

Teams P W D L GF GA GD PTS
JIANGSU (CHN) 2 2 0 0 3 1 2 6
JEJU UNITED (KOR) 2 1 0 1 4 2 2 3
GAMBA OSAKA(JPN) 2 1 0 1 4 4 0 3
ADELAIDE UNITED (AUS) 2 0 0 2 1 5 -4 0

Adelaide United v Jeju United (Wednesday 19:30)

The final match of the round sees high-flying Jeju make the trip to Adelaide in another K-League v A-League clash. Jeju have surprised many this year with their performances both home and abroad, they were incredibly unlucky to lose the opening match against Jiangsu but more than made up for it by putting four past Gamba in Osaka. In the K-League they have won their opening two matches including a 3-0 victory over Ulsan. They are team playing with confidence right now and look like they can score every match, with goals coming from practically every area of the pitch. Adelaide are quite the mirror image of Jeju, falling first 3-0 at home to Gamba before losing 2-1 away in China. They got a lifeline with that unexpected Jeju victory in Japan but will need to be at their best to get one over Jeju in this match. You would imagine the visitors would settle for a draw with the idea of winning their remaining home ties.

Prediction : Away Win : Adelaide 1 – Jeju 2

ACL 2017 Round 2 Previews

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After a hugely disappointing first round in the ACL Group Stages in which the four K-League representatives amassed the measly total of a single point it’s time for Round 2 and for some a week of must-win matches await. The first round was somewhat of a disaster for the Korean teams as both Seoul and Jeju succumbed to 1-0 home defeats while Ulsan returned from Japan with a 2-0 defeat. Suwon Bluewings were the only team who could hold their head up high after battling to a 1-1 draw with Kawasaki although even that scoreline came about as a result of an own-goal for the Korean FA Cup holders. There is no time to rest for the ACL teams as round 2 is already upon us so with no further ado let’s look at who the Korean teams face this week.

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Ulsan Hyudai v Brisbane Roar (Tues Feb 28th)

Ulsan welcome Brisbane Roar to town sitting rather unpretty at the bottom of the table after falling to two second half goals in Japan last week. That result probably wasn’t wholly unexpected and you would imagine that Kashima will probably run out eventual winners of Group E without breaking too much sweat. Ulsan will have had another week to blood new signings Orsic and Lee Jong Ho into the team and when they settle and hit form they will undoubtedly be a force. Their opponents, Brisbane, weren’t able to build on their emphatic play-off win over Shanghai Shenhua and could only manage a home draw with Thailand’s Muangthong United. With Kashima looking strong it will come down to the matches between the others to decide who is ‘best of the rest’ which in turn means that a result at home this week is essential for Ulsan. Interestingly back in 2012 when Ulsan won their solitary ACL crown they were drawn with Brisbane in the group stages. Both matches that year ended in draws, 1-1 in Ulsan and 2-2 in Brisbane so maybe just maybe history will repeat itself.

Prediction Home Win – Ulsan 2 Brisbane 1

 

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Urawa Red Diamonds v FC Seoul (Tues Feb 28th)

Of all the K-League teams in action last week FC Seoul will probably be the most disappointed as they lost to Shanghai SIPG at home in a match which they had a good amount of the play in. They seemed to have their tactics spot on for large parts of the match and managed to contain both Oscar and Hulk for the most part although it was the latter who won the tie with a truly outstanding strike (see video clip below). Seoul missed a penalty at 1-0 after Dejan had spectacularly thrown himself to the ground under a challenge from He Guan and to be honest for all their good play that was the most clear cut chance they had. Urawa on the other hand, come into the game on the back of a spectacular 4-0 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers which has put them in pole position in the group. Last year Seoul knocked Urawa out in the first knockout stage on penalties, they lost the away leg 1-0, a similar result in Round 2 could see them really struggle to get out of the group this year. They really need to return from Japan with a share of the spoils and hope they can get maximum points from the WSW double header. It’s going to be a tough ask though.

Prediction : Away Win : Urawa 1 – Seoul 0

 

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Swuon Bluewings v Guangzhou Evergrande (Wed March 1st)

Suwon Bluewings might have returned from Japan with a point last week but this week will definitely prove to be more of a challenge as they welcome the mighty Evergrande to town in one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes of this year’s tournament. Bluewings’ goal in the last round came courtesy of a Taniguchi own goal in a fairly even match that could have swung either way to be honest. The match marked the debuts of Shin Hwa Young and Park Ki Dong with the latter coming off the bench in the final stages. Suwon are generally a tough team to beat at home but they will need to be at their best if they are to get a result against their opponents this time. Evergrande ran out 7-0 winners against the minnows of Eastern Sports Club who played most of the match with only nine men. It’s difficult to really judge how good a result that is due to the dismissals but it does look as if the Chinese champions mean business this year after a woeful campaign last year. The Bluewings’ away draw means they probably could afford to lose this match as long as they win the home clash with Kawasaki in April.

Prediction : Score Draw : Bluewings 1 Evergrande 1

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Gamba Osaka v Jeju United (Wed March 1st)

Jeju will get set for the short hop across to Osaka safe in the knowledge that they gave their all against Choi Yong Soo’s Jiangsu Sunning only to lose out to a 90th minute Ramires strike. They hit the woodwork twice against the Chinese runners-up in what was, if nothing else, a brave display. Ex-Seongnam skipper Park Jin Po made his debut for the Islanders with Frederic Mendy coming off the bench in the last minute for his first outing in orange. They will definitely feel hard done by but can definitely go to Osaka with their heads held a little high. Gamba on the other hand, will have more then the proverbial spring in their step as they trounced Adelaide United 3-0 in Australia in a rather one-sided affair. Gamba are now without star striker Takashi Usami but they seem to be adjusting to his loss quite quickly. This group was always going to be a tough one for Jeju but given how well their Japanese counterparts have started it does mean that a point really needs to be coming back with them on the plane if they are to have any chance of qualification. Gamba have a relatively decent record against Korean teams although Suwon Bluewings did go there and win last year which should give Jeju a glimmer of hope.

Prediction : Home Win : Gamba 2 – Jeju 1

ACL 2017 Round 1 Previews

 

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This week sees the first round of the Group Stages of the 2017 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”. With last year’s winners Jeonbuk being thrown out of the tournament all Korean eyes will be on ACL regulars Seoul and Suwon Bluewings to see if they can keep the trophy in Korea.

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FC Seoul v Shanghai SIPG (Tuesday 21st Feb)

FC Seoul start their Asian Champions League campaign with a home match against Andre Villa Boas’ Shanghai SIPG in what is generally regarded as one of the toughest ACL groups in recent years. Where SIPG are bolstered by players such as Hulk, Carvalho and Oscar, Seoul have seen their squad somewhat depleted with Adriano leaving for pastures new over the close season. Adriano had a fantastic group stage last year and will be undoubtedly be greatly missed with his replacement, Maurinho, hardly an eye-catching capture . With the other two members of the group being Urawa and Western Sydney Wanderers its fair to say that every point is a prisoner and neither team can afford a slow start. Shanghai came through the playoff stage with a rather routine 3-0 win over Sukhothai, Seoul haven’t exactly set the world on fire with their pre-season friendlies, it could all come too quick for the K-League Champions.

Prediction : Draw : Seoul 1 – Shanghai SIPG 1

 

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Kashima Antlers v Ulsan Hyundai (Tuesday 21st Feb)

The second Korean team involved in this year’s ACL are Ulsan Hyundai who found themselves the main beneficiaries of the ACL decision to prohibit Jeonbuk playing in this year’s tournament. Ulsan were promoted to the play-off stage after Jeju automatically moved up to take Jeonbuk’s place. They had a rather tense affair against Kitchee when the match went to penalties, this really was a match that they should be winning without too much huff and puff but I guess you can excuse them as they really didn’t get a whole lot of time to prepare. Ulsan make a welcome return to the ACL having last competed in 2014 when they failed to qualify from the group stages. They start their campaign with a tough trip to Japan to face J-League title holders and Fuji Xerox Cup winners Kashima Antlers. The main talking point of the match will undoubtedly be Kwon Sun Tae making his first appearance against a Korean team since his winter transfer from Jeonbuk. Ulsan themselves have seen a few new faces arrive in the close season with Mislav Orsic and Lee Jong Ho being two huge additions to their squad. As mentioned they did struggle against Kitchee and Kashima will be a tough nut to crack away. Brisbane Roar and Muangthong United make up the rest of Group E so they might just view this one as being “loseable”

Prediction: Home Win : Kashima 2 – Ulsan 0 

 

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Kawasaki Frontale v Suwon Bluewings (Wednesday 22nd Feb)

Korean cup winners Suwon Bluewings will head to Japan to start their ACL campaign and must be hoping for a better showing in the group stages this year than last year when they lost out on away goals to Melbourne Victory. They have strengthened quite a bit over the close season and seem to be building a team for an assault on the K-League title, signings such as Matt Jurman and Shin Hwa Young should more than compliment the squad which clinched the FA Cup to end the 2016 season. They seem to have managed to keep the prolific Jonathon in their ranks and on his day he is one of the deadliest in the K-League. This match will see Jung Sung Ryong line up against his old team for the first time since his J-League switch.  Kawasaki finished 3rd in the J-League last year and will be no pushovers and considering the other teams making up the group are Chinese giants Guangzhou Evergrande and Hong Kong’s Eastern it will almost certainly come down to the head-to-head between these two. Hopefully Bluewings will have learned from last year’s harsh lessons and be a little more focused in their home matches.

Prediction : Draw : Bluewings 1 – Kawasaki 1 

 

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Jeju United v Jiangsu FC (Wednesday 22nd Feb)

Our final Korean team in action are Jeju United who embark on relatively unknown territory as they make only their second ever appearance in the ACL, the first of which was back in 2011.They qualified courtesy of finishing third in the K-League and then were moved into Jeonbuk’s place after they were expelled. They had a good season last year and will be hoping to build on a rather surprising third place spot this year. They strengthened their squad by adding Frederic Mendy from Ulsan whilst bringing Aleksander Jovanovic back from China. They also signed the experienced Park Jin Po from Seongnam which should add some steel to their often leaky defence. In Jiangsu FC, they face a tough opening game against such big names as Ramires, Martinez and Teixeira as well as continuing the ex-player theme by coming face to face with Hong Jeong Ho. Add in Adelaide United and Gamba Osaka and they have a really tough group which they will do well to get even close to qualification from to be honest. They are difficult to beat on the island in the domestic scene but bringing that form into the ACL is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Prediction : Away Win : Jeju 1 – Jiangsu 3