Sunday, June 23, 2024

Korean champions Ulsan to duel Japanese club Yokohama in AFC Champions League Semifinal

Must read


Joo Min-kyu of Ulsan HD FC, left, celebrates after scoring a goal against Gangwon FC during the clubs’ K League 1 match at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League, April 13. Yonhap

Two-time reigning Korean champions Ulsan HD FC will battle Japanese side Yokohama F. Marinos this month for a spot in the final of the top Asian club football tournament.

The two teams will clash in the two-legged semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, with Ulsan hosting the opening leg at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Yokohama will be the home team for the second leg at 7 p.m. on April 24.

Ulsan captured each of the past two K League 1 titles, while Yokohama were crowned the J1 League champions in 2022.

The winner of this Korea-Japan showdown will meet the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Al Ain FC and Al Hilal.

Ulsan are in fine form heading into the opening leg, with their offense firing on all cylinders. In their most recent domestic match Saturday, Ulsan blanked Gangwon FC 4-0 behind a brace by Joo Min-kyu, the 2023 league scoring champion. Midfielder Lee Dong-gyeong had a goal and two assists to become the first player this season to be involved in 10 goals. He ranks second in the league with six goals and first with four assists.

Through seven matches, Ulsan lead all K League 1 clubs with 16 goals.

“This was the best match we’ve played this season,” Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo said of Saturday’s victory. “And we have another important match coming up in the AFC Champions League. We will stay humble and prepare for the match the best we can.”

Joo, who has three goals in the AFC tournament, said, “Our pride is on the line and we want to win this matchup for the rest of the K League.”

Lee Dong-gyeong of Ulsan HD FC, center, celebrates after scoring a goal  during the clubs' K League 1 match at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, in this file photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League, April 13. Yonhap

Lee Dong-gyeong of Ulsan HD FC, center, celebrates after scoring a goal during the clubs’ K League 1 match at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, in this file photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League, April 13. Yonhap

Ulsan’s defense has also settled down after a rocky start, having posted consecutive clean-sheet victories.

Goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, who stopped a penalty against Gangwon en route to his third clean sheet of the season, said he wants to make Ulsan supporters proud.

“We’re confident we can win the first match because we’ll be at home,” Jo said. “We want to prove that we are the best of the K League. We will give our fans much to cheer about when they come to see us play.”

Ulsan are also chasing a ticket to the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup.

The revamped FIFA tournament will award the AFC four spots. Al Hilal and Urawa Red Diamonds, as the two most recent AFC Champions League winners, have grabbed two of them. The winner of the ongoing AFC Champions League will secure another spot, and the one remaining berth will go to the top team in the AFC club rankings, which are based on clubs’ performances at the AFC Champions League in the 2021-2024 period.

Al Hilal are atop the rankings but they have already qualified for the Club World Cup. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of the K League 1, who lost to Ulsan in the quarterfinals of this year’s Champions League, are in second place with 80 points. Ulsan, currently at 78 points, will move past Jeonbuk with a win in either of the legs in the semifinals.

A match victory and progress to the next stage of the AFC tournament are each worth three points, and a draw is good for one point.

A promotional poster for the memorial event scheduled for the late Ulsan player Yoo Sang-chul is seen in this file photo provided by Ulsan HD FC, April 15. Yonhap

A promotional poster for the memorial event scheduled for the late Ulsan player Yoo Sang-chul is seen in this file photo provided by Ulsan HD FC, April 15. Yonhap

Ulsan and Yokohama have some common connections.

Ulsan forward Yun Il-lok spent the 2018 season with Yokohama. Ulsan’s physical trainer, Seigo Ikeda, worked for Yokohama from 1997 to 2007.

Yokohama’s Korean midfielder Nam Tae-hee is a product of Ulsan’s youth clubs. Their Japanese midfielder Jun Amano played for Ulsan on loan in 2022.

Amano had a particularly ugly departure following his one-year stint with Ulsan. After Amano signed with Ulsan’s chief rival Jeonbuk, Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo accused the midfielder of reneging on his earlier promise and chasing money, and even called Amano “the worst Japanese player I’ve ever seen.”

One respected figure that connects these two clubs is the late Korean international Yoo Sang-chul, who succumbed to cancer in 2021.

Yoo spent nine seasons with Ulsan across three stints, and played four seasons with Yokohama over two spells.

During those times, Yoo helped Ulsan grab K League titles in 1996 and 2005, and League Cup titles in 1995 and 1998. With Yoo in tow, Yokohama won back-to-back J1 League championships in 2003 and 2004.

Ulsan plan to hold a memorial event in honor of Yoo on the occasion of the match against Yokohama.

The K League club will invite visiting Yokohama supporters to pay their respects for Yoo at the late star’s “Wall of Memories” set up inside Munsu Football Stadium. T-shirts and mufflers bearing Yoo’s image from his playing days will be on sale.

Yokohama have agreed not to demand any royalty payments for the use of their club logo or other materials during the memorial event. (Yonhap)



More articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest article