Ulsan struggles against the world’s best clubs

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Ulsan struggles against the world’s best clubs

Ulsan Hyundai, winners of the Asian Football Confederation Champions League, ended its maiden Club World Cup campaign in poor fashion, suffering a 3-2 defeat to Japanese club Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who qualified for the prestigious FIFA tournament simply because it was hosting the event.

Hiroshima, the J-League champions who didn’t qualify for the AFC CL, started out with an own goal by Hiroki Mizumoto in the 17th minute, but they quickly rebounded with three straight goals.

Lee Yong managed to reduce the deficit with Ulsan’s only goal scored during second half injury time.

The Japanese side dominated for much of the game, held at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture. Satoru Yamagishi offset the own goal with a strike in the 35th minute. Hisato Sato extended the lead with a pair of goals in the 56th and 72nd.

It is the second straight loss in the tournament for Asia’s representative at the Club World Cup after a 3-1 rout to Mexico’s Monterrey, the winners of the Concacaf Champions League, on Sunday. That makes Ulsan the worst-performing Korean club to have qualified for elite tournament.

Three other Korean clubs have advanced to the Club World Cup before Ulsan, and all managed to win at least one game. The Pohang Steelers finished third in 2009, followed by the Seongnam Chunma in fourth in 2010. The Jeonbuk Motors lost their first game in 2006, but went on to win the fifth-place decider.

Ulsan did not lose during its 12-game campaign en route to win the 2012 AFC Champions League, including an intense game against FC Tokyo in the group stage.

With the loss to Monterrey, Ulsan blew a chance to play Chelsea in the semifinals. It also settled with the sixth-place prize of $1 million.

Ulsan, who finished fifth in the K-League this year, has no chance to defend its title next year. Four top clubs in Korea, including top finishers of the season and the FA Cup winner, FC Seoul, Jeonbuk Motors, Suwon Bluewings and Pohang Steelers have received a berth to compete in the 2013 AFC Champions League.

The semifinal match between Chelsea and Monterrey will be held today.

The winner of the match will play either Al-Ahly of Egypt or Corinthians Paulista of Brazil.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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