East Asia Korea

Titanic Clash On the Cards as In-Form Beijing Takes on In-Form Ulsan

The draw for the East Zone quarterfinal of the 2020 AFC Champions League was done on Tuesday and it produced two delicious ties that are surely worth waiting. China’s Beijing Sinobo Guoan will take on South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai at the Al-Wakrah Sports Complex on December 10th, while Japan’s sole representative in the competition, Vissel Kobe, will square off against Ulsan’s countrymen in Suwon Samsung Bluewings at the same venue on the same day.

The tie of the quarterfinal was undoubtedly the showdown between first-time quarterfinalists Beijing against 2012 ACL champions Ulsan, with the two teams being the form teams of the tournament since the late November restart. Beijing are unbeaten in their last 7 ACL matches, coasting through Group E as group winners and confidently dispatching Japan’s FC Tokyo in the last 16. Bruno Genesio’s men had won 6 out of their last 7 ACL games, with an A Lan penalty miss in their last Group E match against Thailand’s Singha Chiangrai United denying them all three points in a 1-1 draw.

Standing in the way between Beijing and a spot in the semifinal is Ulsan, whose ACL performance after the restart was also ominous. Kim Do-hoon’s charges had won all six of their ACL matches so far in Qatar, with a 1-1 draw with FC Tokyo at the Ulsan Munsu Stadium all the way back in February their only blemish in the competition so far. With 17 goals so far to their name, Ulsan are also the most productive team in the ACL’s East Zone so far, with the likes of Bjorn Johnsen and Yoon Bit-garam on tip-top form for the 2020 K League 1 runners-up. However, Beijing have their own ace up their sleeve in A Lan and a battle between these three would become one of the highlights of the tie.

Another factor that would decide the difference in this encounter is Ulsan’s desire to clinch silverware this season. They were denied by Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in both the 2020 K League 1 season and the 2020 Korean FA Cup at the final hurdle and with Jeonbuk already being eliminated from this year’s ACL, the Hyundai Heavy Industries-backed team would surely be determined to ensure that they won’t be the bridesmaid to the bride for the third time this season.

“Beijing are a good team and we need to prepare well to face them and do our best in the quarterfinal,” said head coach Kim after the draw, while his Beijing counterpart Bruno had this to say, “I think at this level of the competition, we had no particular preference as to which team we wanted to face. All the teams that have reached this stage are good teams, so all the matches will be 50-50. We just need to prepare, focus on our own team, and play our own game.”

Fellow first-time quarterfinalists Vissel are treading into even deeper uncharted territories as they became the J.League’s furthest-reaching representative in this year’s ACL. The only debutants left in the competition – with this year’s being Beijing’s 9th participation, Ulsan’s 8th, and Suwon’s 10th -, Atsuhiro Miura’s men were drawn against Suwon, who staged an excellent comeback from one goal down to eliminate Vissel’s countrymen Yokohama F. Marinos 3-2 in the round of 16. The match will become the third time that these two will square off in this year’s ACL – they were both part of Group G in the group stages and played two matches there, with each team striking one victory.

Kyogo Furuhashi was the hero for Vissel in their first match against Suwon, scoring a 90th minute winner to ensure a 1-0 victory for the men from Hyogo Prefecture away at the Suwon World Cup Stadium all the way back in February. However, Suwon would get their revenge in the return match on December 4th, beating Vissel 2-0 at the Khalifa International Stadium – however in Vissel’s defense, they had already secured a last 16 ticket and were guaranteed to qualify as Group G winners by the time of that match, leaving Miura with the luxury of rotating his squad for that tie.

Both Miura and Suwon head coach Park Kun-ha agreed that the sense of familiarity between the two would fuel more spice for their December 10 showdown, with the stakes much more higher this time out.

The winners of the quarterfinal matches will meet in the semifinal at the Al-Wakrah Sports Complex on December 13th, with the winners of the semifinal taking on Iran’s Persepolis FC in the final at the same venue on December 19th.