Jeonbuk 2-1 Al Ain: Five things we learned

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From a pragmatic perspective, Al Ain will take a 2-1 away loss. But it is tinged with frustration after they failed to keep a hold on Leonardo.

There can be similar feelings for Jeonbuk, who should have landed more blows in a dominant opening 30 minutes.

It is still all to play for when Al Ain and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors clash again next week after an engrossing first leg of the 2016 AFC Champions League final.

AMOORY CAN’T DO IT ALL

Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman is a man of many talents. But the tiny playmaker cannot be expected to work wonders from aimless long balls.

This tactic was repeated in a frustrating first half, in which the striker-less 4-3-3 formation did not function. Target man Douglas must be restored to the starting line-up.

WATCH OUT FOR LEE

Centre midfielder  did his prospects of being the latest South Korean successfully exported to Europe no harm in this match.

The 24-year-old was key to Jeonbuk’s lively start, showing excellent  feet and killer acceleration. Although slight in building, his dynamism means a switch to the Bundesliga, for example, should be a successful one.

KAF’S NIGHT TO FORGET

Jeonju World Cup Stadium had been the subject of ire before this game, with its dilapidated exterior and worse pitch.

But it was Omani referee Ahmed al Kaf who was this game’s real villain. He was far too lenient in awarding bookings, while the mess he and his assistant made in not awarding Kim Bo-kyung’s first-half penalty was appalling.

GOOK IS STILL A GOOD ONE

Veteran striker Lee Dong-gook thrust himself straight into his coach’s plans for next week with a timeless cameo off the bench.

At 37-years old, his awareness of his team-mates saw a killer pass sprayed out to Leonardo for the opener. He could do even more from the start.

AL AIN HAVE REASON TO HOPE

Al Ain travelled to South Korea determined to keep the tie alive and Danilo Asprilla’s away goal ensured this mission was achieved.

The Boss also learned they can cope with Jeonbuk’s intensity, while landing strikes of their own. There is now no better time to end their struggles at home in this year’s edition.

 

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IN PICS: Jeonbuk see off Al Ain 2-1 in AFCCL final first-leg

Matt Monaghan 19/11/2016
Leonardo's double handed Jeonbuk the win.

JEONJU, South Korea — Al Ain’s hopes of landing a second-ever AFC Champions League title remain in the balance after Danilo Asprilla’s half volley handed them a precious away goal during a frantic 2-1 loss at Leonardo-inspired Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

A hectic opening clash at a raucous Jeonju World Cup Stadium between West and East Asia’s finest sides burst into life past the hour mark. Colombian winger Asprilla’s unconventional left-footed swinger sending the approximately 300 travelling supporters into raptures, before the 2006 winners struck back.

Brazilian forward Leonardo has been one of the stars of this edition and his seven-minute brace in response put the destination of the Asian crown back into doubt. He first curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner, before effortlessly stroking in from the penalty spot for a 10th goal in 13 2016 ACL games after UAE left-back Mohammed Fayez’s pull on South Korean striker Kim Shin-wook.

The Boss then held it together in a adrenaline-pumping finale to retain hopes of success during next Saturday’s decider at their Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

A match of this magnitude was given the introduction it deserved. Thousands of green flags shot up across the stands and ear-splitting noise erupted from the Jeonbuk ultras, with the pocket of ‘Ainawi’ taking over their corner of this creaking ground.

A fluorescent explosion of fireworks, which next weekend’s trophy presentation will struggle to match, at kick-off then stunned the senses and left a hue of smoke in the air long into the first half.

Both coaches went for mobility in their selections. Out went static No9 Douglas for the Boss and in came the striker-less 4-3-3 formation utilised in the away leg at Qatar’s El Jaish in the semi-finals.

For the hosts, diligent right-back Choi Chul-soon was moved up into defensive midfield and tasked with shadowing 2016 AFC Player of the Year-elect – and nominal ‘false nine’ – Omar Abdulrahman. Colossal target man Kim Shin-wook got the nod over veteran poacher Lee Dong-gook.

Jeonbuk had blown away big-city rivals FC Seoul in the opening leg of the last four and they tried to repeat the trick this time.

The hopes for the inaugural 2002/03 winners – who forced the first save through Ahmed’s early header – of avoiding this fate were aided by Omani referee Ahmed al Kaf. He declined to issue bookings for a series of momentum-sapping fouls, before he and his linesman were involved in a moment of controversy.

Defensive midfielder Ahmed Barman clumsily volleyed ex-Cardiff City playmaker Kim Bo-kyung up into the air just inside the penalty box. Play was waved on by the laissez-faire referee, before it was called back for a free-kick by his assistant much to the chagrin of the hosts.

Jeonbuk oozed confidence despite a chaotic run-up which included a nine-point deduction in the K League Classic for bribery and the subsequent loss of the crown to Seoul a fortnight ago.

But Al Ain held firm, imbued with belief by a run of just one defeat in their last 10 away trips in Asia’s premier club competition stretching back to March 2015.

They rode the storm until the interval, and nearly went ahead through as ‘Amoory’ flickered into life with a rasping shot which was pushed away by skipper Kwon Sun-tae – who played a decade ago as Kuwait’s Al Karamah were defeated to claim the club’s only ACL title.

An enthralling match then exploded into overdrive.

Erratic Colombian winger Asprilla produced a moment of inspiration on 63 minutes, a hopeful flick of his left boot arrowing into the top corner. The Al Ain players flocked to their joyous supporters, whose dreams of continental supremacy became enlivened.

A cavalry charge from the Green Warriors was inevitable. When it came, Brazilian left winger Leonardo wrought devastation.

He only required a metre of space to fire past helpless UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa on 70 minutes, before he was calmness personified from 12 yards soon after.

Al Ain then had stand-in right-back Fawzi Fayez to thank, in what could be a pivotal moment in the tie, as he headed off the line at the death.

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AFC Champions League Final: Key match-ups

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Key battles.

The 2016 AFC Champions League final gets under way on Saturday as Al Ain travel to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

This clash of West and East Asia’s finest will pit a talented collection of players against each other, with the individual battles set to play a key role in deciding the identity of the next continental king.

Here are the key battles.

LIM JONG-EUN v DOUGLAS

If Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic decides to ditch his experiment with a ‘false nine’ from the semi-final, second leg then Douglas will be back in the starting line-up.

Facing the 28-year-old Brazilian striker will be centre-back Lim Jong-eun. The tall player has proved an adept pick-up from Jeonnam Dragons, playing 28 games as his new side finished runners-up in the recently-completed K League Classic.

The 26-year-old will look to dominate Douglas, who has recovered from a slow start to the season to score eight times in his last 10 appearances.

If he is in the right frame of mind, his predatory instincts could be key in Jeonju.

Winner: Douglas

CHOI CHUL-SOON v OMAR ABDULRAHMAN

The Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors stalwart could be entrusted with the most-demanding job in Asian football today; man-marking the effervescent Omar Abdulrahman.

The 29-year-old is usually deployed at right-back, but when a special focus is required on an opposing playmaker then coach Choi Kang-hee moves him up to defensive midfield.

His task will be to prevent AFC Player of the Year-elect ‘Amoory’, 25, from collecting a ninth man of the match in 13 fixtures in this edition.

Abdulrahman has delivered with a consistency not witnessed since 2012/13. Only a nagging back injury could curb him this weekend, yet he is sure to turn on the tricks and flicks which make him standout as Asia’s premier footballer.

Winner: Omar Abdulrahman

LEE JAE-SUNG v LEE MYUNG-JOO

Despite never letting Al Ain down during his three seasons with them, Lee Myung-joo has dropped out of the reckoning for the national team in recent years. One players to force their way into the Taeguk Warriors set-up in his place is Lee Jae-sung.

The 24-year-old is a rising star, tipped to possibly head off to Europe as soon as the January transfer window.

He cuts an artful presence in the engine room of his team, possessing an exceptional gift for finding space.
This will be a tight scrap, but one the Jeonbuk man will edge.

Winner: Lee Jae-sung

LEONARDO v FAWZI FAYEZ

Make no mistake about it, Fawzi Fayez is set for a taxing evening in Jeonju.

The 29-year-old was third-choice right-back at the Boss for the last two seasons, making a grand total of 12 Arabian Gulf League appearances. But the sale of Mohammed Fawzi to Al Jazira and long-term injury suffered by No1 Mohamed Ahmed has cast him into the spotlight.

His immediate opponent Leonardo, 30, has been one of the brightest starts of the 2016 ACL. The ex-Brazil youth international has plundered a lethal eight strikes in 12 matches in the ongoing tournament, causing chaos from his position out on the left wing of a 4-3-3 formation.

To Fayez’s credit, he has not let Al Ain down this season. But it looks like he will have to raise his game to an unobtainable level to win this individual fight.

Winner: Leonardo

KIM SHIN-WOOK v ISMAIL AHMED

Buckle yourself in for a battle of the giants when 6 ft 51⁄2 in Jeonbuk centre forward Kim Shin-wook squares up against the 6 ft 3 in Al Ain centre-back Ismail Ahmed.

Asian football rarely sees such gladiatorial clashes.

Intriguingly despite their physical advantages, neither is a brute. Kim, 28, is a consummate link man, who offers far more to the teams he features in than a paltry return of three goals in 36 South Korea caps and 10 strikes in 45 games for his current club suggests.

Ahmed, 33, allies a learned ability to read the game with a long-limbed frame. The 2014 AFC Player of the Year nominee has recovered from a shaky start to 2016 to be peerless in West Asia during recent months.

He will be tasked with preventing Kim from setting the platform for the likes of Lee Jae-sung, Ricardo Lopes and Leonardo. This is a job he is capable of completing.

Winner: Ismail Ahmed

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