Jeonbuk slip to second after 1-1 draw with Hoang Anh Gia Lai
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors were held to a 1-1 draw by Vietnamese side Hoang Anh Gia Lai on Monday as they kicked off the second leg of the group stage of the AFC Champions League.
Jeonbuk took an early lead in the Group H game at Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, with Moon Seon-min finding the back of the net in the 17th minute to put the reigning K League champions ahead.
Despite that early lead, Jeonbuk struggled to keep up their momentum going into the second half.
Having played three games in the last two weeks, Jeonbuk manager Kim Sang-sik opted to make a number of changes on Monday to rest key players with two games still to play this week.
Hoang Anh Gia Lai manager Kiatisuk Senamuang, on the other hand, opted to make minimal changes to his starting XI, fielding his strongest squad in an effort to ensure his team remained competitive in their first Champions League appearance since 2005.
Among those on the bench for Jeonbuk was goalkeeper Lee Bum-soo, who has maintained a clean sheet in the tournament so far, with Song Bum-keun taking his place between the posts.
Song, unfortunately, was unable to maintain the team’s clean sheet, conceding Jeonbuk’s first goal of the tournament to Vietnamese international Nguyen Van Toan, one of the many success stories of the Park Hang-seo management of the Vietnamese national team, in the 62nd minute.
With 30 minutes still left on the clock, a weakened and weary Jeonbuk were unable to find any reply to the Hoang Anh Gia Lai offensive, holding the Vietnamese side off but unable to mount an attack of their own.
The final score stood at 1-1, knocking Jeonbuk down to second place in Group H on eight points, one behind the Yokohama F. Marinos in first.
"I am disappointed with the result but I could see that my players were fatigued, especially in the second half and we couldn't protect our lead,” Kim said after the match.
"Credit to [Hoang Anh Gia Lai] as they played the way we thought they would, a high pressing game. Their fitness is a strong point for them and technically, they are very sound as well. The fans were also a major part as they drove the team to get the equalizer."
With only the top team guaranteed to advance to the knockout stage at the Champions League, being knocked down to second with two games still to go puts Jeonbuk in a tricky position, although there are other routes to the next stage of the tournament. A total of eight teams will ultimately advance from the five East Asia groups — the five top teams and the three best second-place teams.
"We have two matches to play and everything is still within our hands,” Kim said. “We will focus on the recovery of the players and start preparing for the next match."
All four of the Korean teams currently competing in the Champions League have slipped below first place in their respective groups. Alongside Jeonbuk, Daegu FC in Group F are also in second place, while both the Jeonnam Dragons in Group G and Ulsan Hyundai in Group I have fallen to third.
Daegu, Jeonnam and Ulsan will be back in action on Wednesday. Daegu will take on Chinese side Shandong Taishan, Jeonnam face Filipino club United City and Ulsan will play Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale. Jeonbuk will then take on Australian club Sydney FC on Thursday.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]