Jeju United faces off against the Urawa Red Diamonds

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Jeju United faces off against the Urawa Red Diamonds


Hwang Il-su of Jeju United, during the first round of 16 match against Urawa Red Diamonds at the Asian Football Confederation Champions League at Jeju Stadium. [YONHAP]

Korean outfit Jeju United are on the verge of reaching the quarterfinals at the top continental club football competition.

Jeju will take on Urawa Red Diamonds on Wednesday in the second leg of their round of 16 series at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. The match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Saitama Stadium 2002 in Saitama, Japan.

The aggregate score after the two matches will determine who’ll advance to the quarterfinals, and the away goals rule will be in play. And Jeju are in the driver’s seat, thanks to their 2-0 win last week at home.

A draw or even a 1-0 loss will suffice for Jeju, who are playing in just their second AFC Champions League and first knockout stage. Urawa, who have survived the group stage for the fourth time, face an uphill climb after failing to get an away goal last week.

Last week, Marcelo Toscano and Jin Seong-uk were the goal scorers for Jeju, who are leading the K League Classic with 24 goals scored in 12 matches. Goalkeeper Kim Ho-jun was stellar, making seven saves en route to being named to the AFC’s Team of the Week.

Jeju are the only K-League Classic club to make it out of the group stage. Three other clubs - FC Seoul, the Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Ulsan Hyundai - were all sent packing after the opening round.’

Jeju head coach Jo Sung-hwan said the last thing he wants is to have his players let their guard down, thinking they have the quarterfinals ticket in the bag already.

To keep the ball rolling for Jeju, midfielder Hwang Il-su will have to be at his speedy best once again.

The 29-year-old played with an extra bounce in his step in the first leg, held two days after Hwang earned his first national team selection ahead of a World Cup qualifier. He gave Urawa’s defense fits with his blazing speed, and set up Toscano’s goal in the victory.

“We had a good result in the first leg, but we aren’t going to be all cocky now,” Hwang said through the club. “My goal is to also win the second leg before reporting to the national team camp.”

Jeju also have some financial rewards awaiting them if they get past this stage.

They’ve already taken about $360,000 for coming out of the group stage, and will earn an additional $150,000 if they advance to the quarterfinals.

That total will amount to about 570 million won, 700,000 more than the prize money for the K League Classic champions.

“We’ve got a team that can keep getting better and better,” Jo said. “The club is making investments, and the players are responding with results on the field. And this leads to increased interest among fans. We’ll write a new history by reaching the quarterfinals.”

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