Ulsan Hyundai struggle with Covid-19 outbreak
K League leaders Ulsan Hyundai are struggling with a Covid-19 outbreak that seriously dented their squad on the eve of an important continental fixture.
Ulsan announced Monday that multiple players have tested positive for Covid-19, although the club did not disclose exactly how many players are out of action. According to reports, nearly 10 Ulsan players had been infected as of Monday.
Despite the rash of infections, the club maintains that it still has enough players for an important playoff against Thai side Port F.C. scheduled for Tuesday evening as of press time. The winner of that game will earn a spot in the AFC Champions League.
Ulsan are currently leading the K League 1 with 13 points, three points clear of the Pohang Steelers in second place.
Following the strong start, the challenge for Ulsan will, unsurprisingly, be holding on to that lead for the remaining 34 games of the season. Recent history works against the club in this regard: Last year Ulsan were on track for a phenomenal season and a shot at Korea's first ever treble, only to fall apart at the last minute and drop out of contention for all three titles.
Ulsan ended the 2021 K League season in second place, two points behind Jeonbuk for the second year in a row. Just a couple of months earlier, the club was knocked out of the quarterfinals of the AFC Champions League after losing to the lower-ranked K League club Pohang Steelers and out of the FA Cup after losing the semifinals to K League 2 side Jeonnam Dragons.
This year Ulsan start with a clean slate and a chance of chasing all three titles again. With an early lead in the K League and a seat in the Round of 16 at the FA Cup at the end of May, Ulsan are already off to a strong start.
The Champions League is going to be more of a challenge this year, as the club has to survive Tuesday's qualifying playoffs to earn a spot in the tournament proper.
While Tuesday's playoff isn't likely to present much of a challenge for Ulsan, the club will still be shorthanded when the K League continues over the weekend. In Korea, people who test positive for Covid-19 are required to quarantine for seven days.
Ulsan will take on second-place Pohang on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]