Ulsan, Jeonbuk secure AFC knockout spots

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Ulsan, Jeonbuk secure AFC knockout spots

Korean teams Ulsan Hyundai FC and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors locked down knockout berths at the continent’s top club football tournament on Tuesday.

Ulsan defeated Sydney FC 1-0 at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, 400 kilometers (249 miles) southeast of Seoul, to book a place in the round of 16 in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.

Mix Diskerud’s back-heel goal in the 59th minute stood as the winner, and Ulsan clinched the top seed in Group H by improving to three wins and two draws for 11 points.

In the other Group H match, Shanghai SIPG, which began Tuesday in second place behind Ulsan, played Kawasaki Frontale to a 2-2 draw. This result ensured that Ulsan will finish with the best record in Group H regardless of their result against Shanghai in the group stage finale on May 21.

Ulsan will pursue their second AFC Champions League title. Their lone championship win came in 2012.

Later Tuesday, Jeonbuk joined Ulsan by blanking Beijing FC 1-0 at Workers’ Stadium in the Chinese capital and secured first place in Group G.

Kim Shin-wook headed in Jeonbuk’s first goal in the 17th minute, and Jeonbuk improved to 12 points from four wins and one loss.

Urawa Red Diamonds beat Buriram United 2-1 earlier Tuesday to climb to second place at seven points, meaning they won’t be able to catch Jeonbuk.

Jeonbuk will wrap up the group stage against Buriram United on May 21 and will then try to capture their third AFC Champions League title, after winning it all in 2006 and 2016.

The top two clubs from each of eight groups of four will advance to the round of 16, which will begin on June 17.

Ulsan had their first opportunity in the 17th minute, when Junior’s header from the center of the box missed to the left.

Sydney responded five minutes later with Reza Ghoochannejhad’s header, but it went over the bar.

With about four minutes left in the first half, Kim Bo-kyung took a feed from Kim In-sung at the right of the arc and fired a left-footed shot, only to be denied by goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne.

Ulsan broke the deadlock 14 minutes into the second half, with Diskerud converting a Kim In-sung cross with his right heel.

Sydney immediately made two substitutions to help spark their offense, but Ulsan keeper Oh Seung-hoon stood tall in the net.

Ulsan dodged a bullet in the dying moments. With Oh caught well out of position, Ghoochannejhad flicked the ball toward the gaping net. But just before the ball crossed the goal line, defender Yun Young-sun kicked it out of harm’s way to preserve the one-goal victory.

Against Beijing, Jeonbuk started knocking on the door from early on, with Ricardo Lopes, Son Jun-ho and Kim Shin-wook taking turns in firing shots at the net.

Kim finally put Jeonbuk on the board in the 17th minute. After Beijing failed to clear the ball following a Jeonbuk corner kick, Lee Yong corralled the loose ball on the right side and crossed to the middle of the box for Kim, who used all of his 198-centimeter (6-foot-5-inch) frame to head it into the right corner.

Jeonbuk, who held Beijing without a shot on target in the first half, nearly doubled the lead in the 51st minute. After a corner, Han Kyo-won got in alone on goalkeeper Zou Dehai, who denied the midfielder on a point-blank chance.

Beijing’s best chance to even the score came in the 63rd, when Ba Dun’s left-footed strike from outside the box forced goalkeeper Song Bum-keun to make a tough diving save.

A few minutes later, Song sprinted well out of the box in an ill-advised attempt to clear the ball, leaving the net wide open when Beijing striker Cedric Bakambu controlled the ball on the right wing. As Song scampered back to his position, Bakambu slipped and lost control of the ball, allowing Jeonbuk to clear the ball back into midfield.

Beijing pushed Jeonbuk back on their heels down the stretch, and Song came up with an outstanding save during added time to rob Yu Dabao of an equalizer from the middle of the box.

Two other K League 1 teams - Gyeongnam FC in Group E and Daegu FC in Group F - will resume their pursuit of knockout berths on Wednesday.

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