Ulsan beat Kawasaki to inch closer to knockout stage
Ulsan Hyundai beat reigning Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale 3-2 at the AFC Champions League on Wednesday, climbing back into second place in Group I with one game left to play before the knockout stage.
Daegu also picked up three points with a big 4-0 win over Chinese club Shandong Luneng, while FA Cup champions Jeonnam Dragons beat Filipino side United City 2-0.
Ulsan were quick off the mark at Tan Sri Dato' Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium in Johor Bahru, Malaysia on Wednesday, scoring two goals in the first 20 minutes to put Kawasaki on the back foot.
Brazilian import Leonardo opened the scoring for the K League club in the 14th minute, quickly capitalizing on a counterattack to secure an early lead.
Leonardo was also behind goal No. 2, linking up with Um Won-sang on the right wing. Um outpaced the Kawasaki defense, sprinting toward goal and beating Jung Sung-ryong to take the score to 2-0 in the 20th minute.
Ulsan immediately went on the defensive, sitting far back on the ball and allowing Kawasaki to control the game for the rest of the half. This technique didn’t pay off for the Korean club and Kawasaki were able to get one back in the 40th minute to take the score to 2-1 going into the half.
Ulsan extended their lead immediately after the break, with Leonardo once again at the center of the play. The Brazilian picked up his second assist of the game, putting Valeri Qazaishvili through on goal. The Georgian forward beat his defender and then slotted the ball through the legs of Kawasaki goalkeeper Jung to take the score to 3-1.
The Japanese club continued to pile on the pressure for the rest of the game, but were unable to get anything past goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo until injury time. That consolation goal took the score to 3-2, but it was far too late in the game to think about adding an equalizer.
“I am pleased with my performance today,” Leonardo said after having a hand in all three goals. “Having sat on the bench for the last two matches, obviously I was eager to get on the pitch to show my ability and to help the team as much as possible.
“In my opinion, this was our best performance of the campaign so far. We showed the determination to keep our organization and concentration until the very end and to me, that was the key difference missing from our first match.”
Ulsan will now go on to play Malaysian club Johor Darul Ta'zim in a make-or-break final game on Saturday. Johor currently lead Group I on 10 points, beating out Ulsan because of the two clubs’ head-to-head record.
With only one guaranteed knockout spot available and Kawasaki just two points behind, only a victory on Saturday will ensure advancement out of the group stage.
Over in Group F, Daegu’s victory over Shandong has moved them up to first place, the only of the four Korean teams to currently top a group.
Daegu were off to an even faster start than Ulsan on Wednesday, scoring two goals in the first 12 minutes to dominate Shandong early on, adding two more in the second half for an easy victory. Over both legs, the K League club scored a total of 11 goals against the Chinese side.
The win puts Daegu on 10 points alongside the Urawa Red Diamonds, with Daegu taking first based on the head-to-head record.
Daegu’s final game on Saturday is against the Lion City Sailors. The Singaporean side stunned Daegu with a 3-0 win last week, but then went on to lose 6-0 to Urawa on Wednesday.
Jeonnam are in a far worse position in Group G. Despite winning on Wednesday, the K League 2 club still trails in third place and has no chance of reaching the top spot.
Even reaching second place is highly unlikely, as Jeonnam would have to beat group leaders BG Pathum on Saturday and second-place Melbourne City would need to lose to United City, who have lost all five games so far.
Even then, only the best three second-place teams will advance, meaning Jeonnam’s tournament is likely to come to an end this weekend.
As of press time, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the fourth Korean team in the tournament, are set to play their penultimate game against Sydney FC on Thursday.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]