Double barrels loaded for quarterfinals

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Double barrels loaded for quarterfinals

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Leonardo Rodrigues Pereira, left, and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors host Shanghai SPIG in the second leg of the ACL quarterfinals tonight while FC Seoul and Park Chu-young, right, travel to China for their quarterfinals match against Shandong Luneng FC. Jeonbuk and Seoul look to gain berths in the semi-finals, where, if the two advance, they will clash head-on in their bid for the ACL title. [K-LEAGUE]

Just in time for the Chuseok holiday, Korean football fans are in for a treat as the second leg of the home-and-away quarterfinals games for the Asian Champions League (ACL) starts today with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors taking on Shanghai SIPG at its home ground at Jeonju World Cup Stadium. Tomorrow, Jeonbuk’s K-League rival FC Seoul will face Shandong Luneng FC at Jinan Olympic Sports Centre in Jinan, China, for the semi-final berth at this year’s ACL. These matches are essentially a show-down between the best of the K-League Classic and the Chinese Super League.

While Jeonbuk and Seoul face Chinese clubs this week to pave their ways to the next round, they ultimately have one thing and one thing only on their minds: the ACL trophy.

This may just be the year for Jeonbuk and the timing couldn’t be better. Jeonbuk remains undefeated in the K-League Classic, a league deemed one of the best in Asia, and it has all the elements it needs to take a win today: the support of the home fans and the momentum of an unbeaten record.

Jeonbuk collected an ACL title in 2006 back when it had no reputation to speak of in the K-League, let alone in Asia. But Jeonbuk popped out of nowhere and trumped Al-Karamah SC, a Syrian football club, for the title. It was as unexpected a win as any.

This is where Jeonbuk’s legacy as the elite team of the K-League Classic started. Four years later, it stood atop the Korean league and garnered a reputation as the football powerhouse of Asia. Jeonbuk saw its prominence culminate in 2011 with its offense-first tactic going into full swing.

Jeonbuk’s win almost seemed inevitable. Not only was the 2011 ACL final match played as a single-match format, but it was played at Jeonbuk’s home ground, the Jeonju World Cup Stadium. Additionally, Lee “the Lion King” Dong-gook had well settled in after joining the team in 2009 to become the top scorer of the ACL in 2011.

Jeonbuk had all the pieces in order and no one would have thought they would have to see the trophy slip from their reach, even when the game extended all the way to the penalty shoot out. But the K-League club conceded the ACL title to Al-Sadd of Qatar. After swallowing the bitterness of defeat, Jeonbuk is now determined to regain its claim to the throne.

While Jeonbuk boasts an unbeaten record in the league, FC Seoul will exploit the pool of talent it has in the offense in its quest for the ACL trophy.

Like Jeonbuk, Seoul has suffered a bitter failure in its campaign.

In 2013, Seoul’s roster was appraised as its greatest line-up of all time. Dejan Damjanovic, a Montenegrin football forward, was at his peak. At his side was Colombian footballer Mauricio Molina. Together called “Da-Mo-lition,” the two delivered as FC Seoul swept up wins across Asia.

In the final of the ACL that year, Seoul met with Guangzhou Evergrande of the Chinese Super League. The first round of the final, played as a two-legged format, was at Seoul’s home stadium.

In the first leg, Seoul was caught off guard and left dumbfounded after it came out with a 2-2 draw. This forced Seoul into a corner and a win became indispensable. But instead, Seoul again ended the next match with a draw. And since away goals are given more points in a tiebreaker, Seoul had remained empty-handed, despite the fact that they actually did not lose a single game to Guangzhou.

This was the second time FC Seoul had finished as runner-up of the ACL since 2002.

But Jeonbuk and Seoul are ready with Jeonbuk unbeaten and Seoul led by names such as Park Chu-young and Carlos Adriano, the leading scorer of the ACL at the moment.

Jeonbuk tied in the first leg of the quarterfinals 0-0 and must win today’s game to gain a berth in the semi-finals. It will face Shanghai, who hope to fill the void of some of its star players such as Elkeson. Seoul, on the other hand, goes into tomorrow’s match more relaxed, as it already clinched a 3-1 victory over Shandong in the first round. But it cannot let its guard down. By taking two wins in the quarterfinals, Seoul hopes to reach the semi-finals on an upward trajectory.

The question remains, then, whether fans will get to see two K-League clubs clash in the coming semi-finals of the ACL, a scenario that must go in effect in order for the K-League Classic to regain its former glory as the kingmaker of Asia.

BY CHOI YONG-JAE, CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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