Three Korean teams reach AFC round of 16

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Three Korean teams reach AFC round of 16

Three Korean pro football clubs will continue their journey at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League after they survived the group stage.


Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors celebrate after scoring a goal against Kitchee SC during the AFC Champions League Group E match at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in North Jeolla on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

The 2018 AFC Champions League (ACL) wrapped up its group stage action Wednesday. Korea was represented by four clubs - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Jeju United, Ulsan Hyundai and Suwon Samsung Bluewings - and among them, only Jeju failed to reach the round of 16.

This is the first time since 2015 that at least three K League 1 clubs have reached the round of 16. In 2016, only Jeonbuk and FC Seoul advanced to the knockout round, while last year, Jeju was the sole Korean representative in the round of 16.

In the ACL, 32 teams are divided into eight groups. The teams from West Asia make up Groups A to D, while East Asian clubs are in Groups E to H. The top two clubs from each group advance to the knockout phase.

The clubs in the top-tier K League 1 have 11 continental titles combined - including Asian Club Championship honors - the most among any other league. The latest crown was achieved by Jeonbuk in 2016.

In this year’s ACL, at least one Korean club will be in the quarterfinals because Ulsan and Suwon will go head-to-head in the round of 16. Jeonbuk, the reigning K League 1 champions, will face Thai league winners Buriram United in the round of 16.

Among Korean clubs, Jeonbuk have been tapped as one of the favorites to claim the title, with their strong squad and experience.


Ulsan Hyundai celebrate after scoring a goal during their Group F match at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan on April 4. [YONHAP]

Jeonbuk proved their reputation in the group stage. Choi Kang-hee’s side won Group E with 15 points after collecting five wins and one loss. In particular, Jeonbuk scored 22 goals in their six group stage matches, the most among the 32 clubs in the ACL.

Buriram finished second in Group G, where they played against Guangzhou Evergrande, Cerezo Osaka and Jeju. They beat Jeju 1-0 on Tuesday to confirm a spot in the next round.

Jeonbuk and Buriram previously met at the 2012 ACL group stage, and the Koreans won 2-0 and 3-2.

The two sides will play their round of 16 first leg at Chang Arena in Buriram, Thailand, on May 8 and will have their return leg at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, North Jeolla, on May 15.

The all-Korean round of 16 match between Suwon and Ulsan will be first held at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan on May 9 and will move to Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi, on May 16.

Ulsan finished second in Group F with two wins, three draws and one loss against Shanghai SIPG, Melbourne Victory and Kawasaki Frontale. Suwon topped Group H with three wins, one draw and two losses after facing teams like Kashima Antlers, Sydney FC and Shanghai Shenhua.

Ulsan and Suwon have not yet faced each other in this season’s K League 1. Their first encounter in the domestic league is scheduled for May 2 in Suwon.

Suwon, two-time continental champions, is currently second in the 12-team K League 1 with four wins, two draws and one loss, while Ulsan is in seventh place with three wins and four losses.

However, Ulsan, 2012 ACL champions, leads the overall head-to-head record against Suwon in the K League 1 with 29 wins, 20 draw and 26 losses.

The players with Korean clubs, meanwhile, will try to win individual honors as well. Suwon’s Montenegrin striker Dejan Damjanovic and Jeonbuk’s towering striker Kim Shin-wook are currently tied for fourth in scoring after netting five goals in six matches.

Jeonbuk’s veteran forward Lee Dong-gook will try to extend his all-time ACL scoring record. The 38-year-old Korean added four goals in this year’s ACL group stage campaign and improved his overall tally in the competition to 36. Lee is chased by Damjanovic, who has scored 32 goals total in the ACL.

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