Asia AFC Champions League

ACL Semifinal Tie Still Finely Poised Despite Ulsan’s Narrow Win Over Marinos

Ulsan HD secured a narrow lead as they triumphed with a captivating 1-0 win over Yokohama F. Marinos in the first leg of the 2023/24 AFC Champions League semifinal on Wednesday, with the slender nature of the win meaning that the two-legged tie is still finely poised coming into next week’s return leg in Yokohama.

The action commenced at Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium, with the home team taking the lead just before the 20-minute mark courtesy of Lee Dong-gyeong. Ulsan captain Joo Min-kyu came close to doubling the advantage in the second half, striking the woodwork.

Despite several opportunities to extend their lead, the two-time champions had to settle for a solitary goal, ensuring a finely balanced semi-final ahead of the rematch on April 24. This victory also secured Ulsan’s berth in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup, joining the likes of Atletico Madrid and Red Bull Salzburg who had sealed their own spots in the competition thank to the results of this midweek’s continental action.

The match began with an emotional tribute to the late South Korean football legend, Yoo Sang-chul, who had a storied career representing both Ulsan and Yokohama. Sang-chul, who was a member of the South Korea team that finished fourth in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, died of stage four pancreatic cancer in 2021 only one year after stepping down as Incheon United head coach.

Yokohama, appearing in the semi-finals for the first time, had their moments, particularly with Ryo Miyaichi’s early attempt saved by goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo. However, it was Ulsan who capitalized on their chance, with Lee Myung-jae’s delivery finding Joo, who set up Dong-gyeong for the crucial goal.

As Yokohama pressed forward, Ulsan remained resolute, with goalkeeper Jo denying Yan Matheus and Anderson Lopes. The second half saw Harry Kewell’s men displaying vigor, but Ulsan’s defense held firm, with Joo almost doubling the lead with a shot that struck the post.

Despite Ulsan’s dominance, Yokohama threatened late on, with Jun Amano’s delivery narrowly missing Matheus. In added time, Ulsan had one final opportunity through Kelvin, only to be denied by an impressive save from Yokohama goalkeeper William Popp, ensuring the match ended with Ulsan holding onto their slender advantage.