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AFC Champions League

Across the Yellow Sea: China’s ACL Korean opposition

As is now customary in the Eastern half of the Asian Champions League draw, a number of clashes between South Korean and Chinese opposition are on the cards. Guest contributor Duncan Elder of the K-League Review very kindly provides Wild East Football with the inside word on the CSL’s Korean opposition in contintental competition this season.

As two of the strongest leagues in East Asia, Korea and Chinese teams have generally got a big history of games against each other. The financial power of the Chinese teams also means there are a lot of players swapping between the two leagues (unfortunately for the K League, usually towards China).

After FC Seoul swept aside Hanoi T&T in their playoff match, they joined group H and in the process set up a tantalising repeat of the 2013 cup final with Guangzhou Evergrande. In that two legged final the scores finished 3-3. However Guangzhou won due to the away goal rule making them the first Chinese Champions since the tournament reformed.

FC Seoul qualified for this year’s competition after a strong end to the season saw them pip Pohang Steelers to the final Champions League spot. A last minute goal in the final game of the season from Osmar Barba was what sealed their spot meaning that last season they spent a total of around 4 minutes in the Champions League positions.

They are slightly weaker in attack than they were two seasons ago, although Cha Du Ri, Osmar Barba and Kim Jin Gyu keep them very solid at the back. Their main attacking threat this year will likely come from promising youngster Yun Il Luk as well as striker Jung Jo Gook, both of whom scored in their win over Hanoi.

Back to the Guangzhou vs Seoul final and the Man of the Match and scorer of two goals in that game is a player now familiar to Chinese football fans, Dejan Damjanovic (the other goal scorer in that game Escudero, is literally at this moment finalising a deal to Jiangsu Guoxin-Sainty FC). This was to be his final game at FC Seoul as that summer he moved, in a move symbolic of the flow of top players from the K League to China, to Jiangsu Sainty. Six months later he moved to Beijing Guoan where he currently plays and where he will make his first return to Korea in his game against Suwon Bluewings.

However due to Seoul and Suwon’s rivalry he is unlikely to get the reception he probably deserves for his achievements in the K League. On the other hand hopefully for Beijing fans he will be highly motivated to score against his former rivals.

Suwon Bluewings had a great finish to last season that saw them climb the table to second in the league. Last season’s K League top scorer Santos and North Korean Striker Jong Tae Se are the team’s most dangerous players and will likely be a handful for the Beijing defence.

Guangzhou R & F will make their Champions League debut with two Korean players. One of those Park Jong Woo used to play for Busan IPark in the K league. Despite being Korean Jang Hyun Soo never played in Korean league system, although he was part of the Korean team that won gold at the Asian games, a run that included a 3-0 win against Hong Kong in the last 16.

This is Guangzhou’s first time in the AFC Champions league and luckily for them they are face the weakest of the four K League teams in the competition. Seongnam FC only reached the tournament after winning the KFA cup, a feat they managed without beating or even scoring against other opposition from the top league. They beat Jeonbuk Motors and FC Seoul on penalties after 0-0 draws.

In the league they spent most of the season in a relegation battle, although they have used the allure of Champions League football to strengthen over the winter transfer window and they should be a tougher proposition now.

They also have a very strong record against Chinese opposition being unbeaten in six ACL games against Tianjin Teda, Beijing Guoan and Shandong Luneng in their three ACL appearances in the last 10 years.

The last time Shandong Luneng played a Korean team produced an entertaining match as their two group stage games against Pohang Steelers last year produced a total of ten goals. Unfortunately the Chinese team lost 6-4 on aggregate. Their opposition this year will be Jeonbuk Motors who are coming in off the back of a K league title win and are certainly the strongest of the Korean teams in the tournament. Jeonbuk are desperate to do better in the competition this year and have reinforced well over the summer to do that. Lee Dong Gook, Edu, Eninho and Han Gyo Won are a fearsome front four and Jeonbuk are likely to be very aggressive attacking wise when they come up against the Shandong team.

Jeonbuk’s two new Brazilian signings Edu and Eninho will be the most familiar to Chinese football fans as they have both had successful spells in China in the last two years. Edu spent a year at Liaoning Whowin in 2013 where he scored a fairly impressive 14 goals in 23 appearances while Eninho was at Changchun Yatai from 2013-2014 in a spell that saw him score 11 in 38.

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