Asia AFC Asian Cup

Ulsan Ends Ventforet’s Fairytale Run

Ulsan HD secured their spot in the quarterfinals of the 2023/24 AFC Champions League with a 2-1 victory over Ventforet Kofu at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Wednesday, completing a dominant 5-1 aggregate triumph. This sets Ulsan up for an intriguing showdown with fellow South Korean behemoths Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the next round.

Kim Ji-hyun’s early goal in the 11th minute effectively sealed Ulsan’s advancement, following their convincing 3-0 win in the first leg in South Korea. The two-time champions will now face off against fellow two-time winners Jeonbuk in a two-legged encounter next month.

Kazushi Mitsuhira managed to salvage a consolation for Ventforet with a header in the 88th minute, before Joo Min-kyu sealed the victory for Ulsan in injury time. Ventforet, only the second side from outside the top-flight to play in the ACL knockouts after Saudi Arabia’s Al-Faisaly last season and the first one to qualify as a second division side outright, made efforts to stage a comeback, with coach Yoshiyuki Shinoda fielding former Nigeria striker Peter Utaka upfront in hopes of an early breakthrough.

However, it was Ulsan who struck first, capitalizing on a counterattack. Despite Ventforet’s increased pressure towards the end of the first half, they couldn’t find the equalizer. Ulsan continued to pose a threat on the counter, with Lee Dong-gyeong and Um Won-sang coming close to extending the lead.

In the second half, Ventforet continued to press, with Utaka leading the charge. However, Jo Hyeon-woo made crucial saves to keep Ulsan in the lead. The hosts managed to level the score briefly through former Oita Trinita man Mitsuhira’s header, but Joo’s late goal secured victory for Ulsan.

Defeat ended Ventforet’s phenomenal run in this season’s ACL. Despite finishing eighth in last season’s J.League 2 and playing their continental home games away from their JIT Recycle Ink Stadium in Yamanashi Prefecture, Ventforet managed to impress many by knocking out Australian giants Melbourne City, Thai powerhouses Buriram United, and China’s Zhejiang FC on their way into the round of 16, where Ulsan and their established continental pedigree proved to be too much for the plucky lower-leaguers.