Jeonbuk, Al Sadd seek Asian crownCarrying the hopes of Korean football, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are gunning to lift the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League trophy again when they host Al Sadd of Qatar at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium in North Jeolla tomorrow.
Jeonbuk is looking to claim the AFC Champions League title for the first time since 2006. A victory would be a major feat for not only the club, but for the K-League as a whole.
If Jeonbuk beats Al Sadd in the final, the title will remain in the hands of a Korean club for the third consecutive year, following Champions League victories by the Pohang Steelers and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.
The stakes are even higher this year as Al Sadd enters the championship game after a controversial semifinal win against the Suwon Samsung Bluewings. The first leg ended in a brawl after Al Sadd scored a contentious second goal to give the team a two-goal advantage.
The AFC investigated the incident and on Tuesday handed suspensions to both clubs’ players and coaches who took active roles in the melee. The organization’s lopsided penalties, however, have only flared tempers among Korean supporters.
While Suwon’s forward Stevica Ristic, trainer Ko Jong-su and Al Sadd’s goalkeeper coach Suhail Saber Ali received six-game bans, Al Sadd’s forward Abdul Kader Keita was slapped with a one-game suspension after hitting a fan who jumped onto the field from the stands.
Suwon said on Wednesday it will appeal the decision, but the AFC has confirmed that Keita is eligible for the championship match after sitting out the second leg of the semifinals against the Bluewings.
Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee said there should be further punishment for Al Sadd players involved in the melee, but claimed the AFC’s rulings won’t affect his team.
“Whether suspended players are able to play in the game or not, we have prepared for any of those scenarios,” Choi said on Tuesday during the AFC Champions League trophy arrival event at Jeonju World Cup Stadium. “We have already analyzed the team and know how to play against them.”
Jeonbuk is renowned for its explosive attack. From the group stage to the semifinals, the 2006 champions have scored 31 goals in nine wins and two losses. The team has already shown its offensive power in the K-League, scoring an average of 2.32 goals per game.
With a home crowd expected to exceed 30,000, pundits are saying that Jeonbuk is in a good position to beat Al Sadd, but since this is the final match the host needs to be more cautious.
“Al Sadd have some players who have some good techniques,” said KBS football commentator Hahn June-hea. “Jeonbuk should be aware of their counter attacks.”
Jeonbuk has its own woes. Star striker Lee Dong-gook, who is the leading scorer in this competition with nine goals, is doubtful to play due to a calf injury. Team captain and center back Cho Sung-Hwan and striker Lovrek Kruno Hrvatsko can’t play after picking up cards against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad in the semifinals.
However, Jeonbuk can still show its fire power with Brazilian forwards Enio Junior, who has six goals this tournament, and Luiz Henrique Da Silva Alves along with Korean internationals Jeong Shung-hoon and Seo Jung-jin.
By Joo Kyung-don [email@example.com]
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