Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors proved their credentials as title-favorites for the 2021 AFC Champions League by advancing into the competition’s quarterfinal on Wednesday. However, the South Koreans were made to work hard for their ticket, as Thai champions BG Pathum United managed to force them into a stalemate after 120 minutes, before the Glass Rabbits were seen off in the ensuing penalty shootout.
Clear favorites to snag one of the East Zone’s four quarterfinal tickets, Jeonbuk host BGPU at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium in a David vs Goliath clash. Jeonbuk had wealth of experience in the ACL, while their opponents are embarking in only their second ever ACL appearance – with the 2021 edition being BGPU’s debut in the tournament proper having been eliminated in the qualifying play-offs back in 2015.
Adding more to Jeonbuk’s advantage is the fact that the Glass Rabbits will be without head coach Aurelio Vidmar, who remained in Thailand due to quarantine measures, as well as star striker Diogo who was out injured. The South Koreans also have Sasalak Haiprakhon within their ranks. Having played against BGPU last season as a Buriram United player, Jeonbuk will be banking on his knowledge of the opponent in Wednesday’s encounter.
BGPU have been impressive in their group stage showing, being the only Southeast Asian side who managed to reach the knockouts, however their four wins in their six group stage games came against fellow Southeast Asian sides in Viettel FC of Vietnam and Kaya FC-Iloilo of the Philippines. When pitted against superior opposition in fellow South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai, BGPU were soundly beaten twice despite showing some promise against the defending ACL champions.
Thus when BGPU were paired together with seasoned ACL competitors Jeonbuk in the knockouts, the odds are well and truly stacked against the Glass Rabbits. Wednesday’s tie was definitely a litmus test to see whether BGPU can duke it out against the giants of East Asian football who had dominated the East Zone for years.
Jeonbuk started the match according to scenario as they had BGPU on the back-foot from the get-go, however the Thai champions managed to make a good account of themselves in the match’s opening 30 minutes. A breakaway from BGPU’s Pathompol Charoenrattanapirom prompted Jeonbuk head coach Kim Sang-sik to perform a double substitution in the half-hour mark, introducing Gustavo and new signing Song Min-kyu into the fray.
The substitutions proved to be a masterstroke as Jeonbuk constantly bombarded Chatchai Budprom’s goal afterwards, however the South Koreans could only manage to find their breakthrough in the second minute of stoppage time. Substitute Gustavo managed to direct Han Kyo-won’s header past Budprom to give Jeonbuk the valuable lead coming into half-time.
The hosts continued from where they had left in the second half, with the likes of Min-kyu, Stanislav Iljutcenko, and Gustavo attempting to seal the game with their efforts only for the trio to squander their chances. Jeonbuk’s profligacy was then punished emphatically in the 76th minute, after legendary Thai striker Teerasil Dangda latched onto a Chaowat Veerachat cross and headed home the equalizer past Jeonbuk goalie Song Bum-keun.
No further goals were scored afterwards and the stalemate lasted throughout the 30 minutes of extra time given. With no winner after 120 minutes, the match will have to be decided through a penalty shootout.
Both Jeonbuk and BGPU dispatched their first two penalties perfectly, with the hosts scoring through Gustavo and Kim Bo-kyung, while BGPU had Jakkaphan Praisuwan and Chatmongkol Thongkiri to thank.
With the scores tied at 2-2, Sarach Yooyen was entrusted with BGPU’s third penalty, however the former Muangthong United man was denied by Song. This allowed Jeonbuk to have the advantage in the shootout after Stanislav managed to dispatch his with aplomb.
Chitchanok Xaysensourinthone, newly signed from Nakhon Ratchasima Mazda during the 2021 off-season, went up next for BGPU, however he too was thwarted by Song.
Chitchanok’s failure gave Kim Jin-su the opportunity to kill the shootout off with Jeonbuk’s fourth penalty and he did his job perfectly, sending the hosts to their first ACL quarterfinal since 2018 with his winning strike.
Wednesday’s ACL action also saw the final quarterfinal ticket of the East Zone falling into Pohang Steelers’ hands, with the South Koreans stunning Cerezo Osaka of Japan 1-0 at the Nagai Stadium.