Ulsan, Seongnam move on to ACL round of 16A pair of K-League clubs advanced from the 2012 Asian Football Confederation Champions League group stage in first place, while two other Korean teams were eliminated as the continental competition enters its knockout phase.
After the group stage wrapped on Wednesday, Korea, which has produced a record nine AFC Champions League winners including two of the past three, will see Ulsan Hyundai and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma playing in the one-off round of 16.
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and the Pohang Steelers failed to advance, losing their final games when a minimum of one point would have saw them through.
Ulsan, led by coach Kim Ho-kon, topped Group F after beating FC Tokyo 1-0 at Munsu Stadium in Ulsan on Wednesday, thanks to a goal from defender Kang Min-soo in the 37th minute.
The team finished the group at 14 points with four wins and two draws, three points above Tokyo, who also qualified for the next round.
Last year’s runner-up in the K-League was the only Korean club among four that had already confirmed its birth to the next round regardless of the final match after beating Beijing Guoan 3-2 on May 2. Ulsan still fielded its best players to clinch the crucial first spot on the group table.
The winner of each group gets home-field advantage in the next round. The round of 16 will have only one match, instead of a home-and-away system like the quarter and semifinals.
Ulsan hosts defending the J-League champions, Kashiwa Reysol, who finished runners-up in Group H. Seongnam also clinched the top spot in Group G on Tuesday after crushing Chinese side Tianjin Teda 3-0 on the road.
Midfielder Yoon Bitgaram got Seongnam on the board first in the 33rd minute and Bosnian striker Vladimir Jovancic struck twice in the 48th and 68th minutes.
No fans were able to attend the game as the AFC punished Tianjin for their home fans’ misbehavior in previous matches.
Seongnam finished the group with two wins and four draws and had the same points total as Japan’s Nagoya Grampus, but led in goal differential.
The 2010 champions will meet Bunyodkor on May 29 at home. Bunyodkor beat the Pohang Steelers 1-0 on Wednesday, with a goal from defender Anvar Gafurov, and clinched the No. 2 spot in Group E.
Pohang, the 2009 champions, needed a draw against the Uzbek club to advance, but finished third in the group with nine points from three wins and three losses, just one point shy of Bunyodkor. Australian club Adelaide United clinched the top spot in the group.
Disappointment already hit Jeonbuk on Tuesday as the 2011 K-League champions slipped from the group’s top spot to third place after a 2-0 defeat to Kashiwa at home.
A draw would have seen them through, but Jeonbuk, the 2006 champions and last year’s runners-up, were helpless. The team could still have advanced if Guangzhou Evergrande finished drew against Buriram United. But that match ended 2-1.
Despite leading Guangzhou to the round of 16, their Korean coach, Lee Jang-soo, was reportedly fired from the club after the campaign. Chinese media are saying that Marcello Lippi, who guided Italy to win the 2006 World Cup, is expected to replace him.
Guangzhou is set to face FC Toyko on May 30 at Guangzhou Tianhe Sport Center. The club snagged first place in Group H with 10 points.
By Joo Kyung-don [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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