Pair of Korean football clubs vie for ACL finalTwo remaining Korean football clubs in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League will resume their action against teams from the Middle East tonight, hoping to create an all-Korean final in the continental football club tournament.
The Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who became the K-League regular season champions last week, are set to lock down their spot in the AFC Champions League final at home against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad, while the Suwon Samsung Bluewings are hoping to overcome Qatar’s Al Saad on the road.
In the first leg of the semifinals last week, Jeonbuk notched a 3-2 win against Al Ittihad at Prince Abdullah al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah, thanks to team captain Cho Sung-hwan’s late second-half header.
As the accumulated score of two games determines the winner, Jeonbuk, the 2006 AFC champion, can advance to the final in an away goal rule - the team that collects more goals in the away game gets the advantage - meaning a draw and even a 1-0 or 2-1 loss could put the Korean club in the finals.
However, for the second leg at Jeonju World Cup Stadium, Jeonbuk will be without its main striker Lee Dong-gook, who is the leading scorer in this competition after netting nine goals.
The 32-year-old suffered a calf injury last week, missing the first leg of the semifinals and last week’s K-League game against Daejeon Citizen, when Jeonbuk secured the domestic title with a 0-0 draw.
“I won’t force Lee to start the game,” Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee said at the press conference yesterday. “We will build up his condition slowly to prepare for the final game.”
Choi said he will fill the void with other forwards such as Jung Shung-hoon, Kim Dong-chan and Lovrek Hrvatsko.
Meanwhile, Suwon looks to revenge its 2-0 loss to Al Saad in the first leg that was marred by a brawl that involved fans and coaching staff of both teams.
The AFC later scrutinized the incident and suspended Suwon’s forward Stevica Ristic and assistant coach Ko Jong-su for their role in the melee.
Al Saad forwards Abdulkader Keita and Mamadou Niang, who scored the controversial second goal in the first leg, are also banned as well as their goalkeeper coach Suhail Saber Ali.
The second match between these two clubs will be held at Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, tonight and Suwon needs to win with at least a three-goal difference to reach the final.
If both Jeonbuk and Suwon succeed in advancing to the next stage, it will be the first all-Korean final since the 2002 Asian Club Championship, the predecessor to the AFC Champions League.
By Joo Kyung-don [firstname.lastname@example.org]