Guangzhou Evergrande, Urawa Reds, Ulsan Horang-i , Al Ain and Al Ittihad have all won the Asian Champions League. All but one of them have also been beaten at home by Jeonbuk Motors. Al Ain have not, yet, but then the Koreans have never made it to the this corner of the United Arab Emirates. That changes this Saturday.
While Jeonbuk Motors may have a 2-1 lead from the first leg of the Asian Champions League final from last weekend, Al Ain fans should expect a big South Korean bus to be parked for the return match on Saturday. But the visitors are looking to score.
No team has played as many games in the tournament as the team from Jeonju and no team has played as many games in the knockout stage. The same goes for the club coach Choi Kang-hee who was in charge when the Motors won the 2006 title and were defeated on penalties in the 2011 final.
Jeonbuk, like their opponents, are better going forward than defending and have plenty of firepower in their ranks. There is some frustration that they have only a one goal advantage and that the Koreans should have added to their tally (not just because the referee didn’t give what looked to be a fairly clear penalty in the first half).
There is a lot of talk in Korea about the victory ten years ago and a slogan of ‘Again 2006’ . Back then, the team was very different. It was a mid-size club that had never won the league. Now it has four domestic titles with facilities and infrastructure that would rank alongside any in Asia.
In that final, Jeonbuk where also at home in the first leg and defeated Al Karamah of Syria 2-0 at home. There was plenty of confidence in the camp heading out to Homs. Jeonbuk played it a little safe and tried to protect what they had. It was a mistake as the hosts were winning 2-0 on the hour. It was almost all over but a late strike from the mercurial Brazilian striker Ze Carlos.
Coach Choi Kang-hee has since said that he learned from that game. That it is better to be in control in Asia and always look to score and this was in a tie that was 2-0 from the first leg, not the much different 2-1 than Al Ain managed.
That message has been reinforced this week. The message coming out of the club is that Jeonbuk will do all they can to score. Basically, there is more confidence that they can score more than one goal in Al Ain than there is that they can keep the Emiratis out for the full 90 minutes.
“We are not going to sit back,” a Jeonbuk official told Sport360. “We know we can score against Al Ain and that is what we plan to do. They scored an away goal so defending for 90 minutes is too risky. It is not our game anyway.”
That does not mean that Jeonbuk are going gung-ho but there is never the intention to sit back and focus on defence. The team has had some excellent results away from home over the years and has often come up with the goods in the toughest of venues.
The worry with Jeonbuk is how to line up. Coach Choi felt that for periods of the first leg, tall striker Kim Shin-wook was too isolated in attack. Yet the target man holds the ball up well and can be a useful outlet out of defence if Jeonbuk are under pressure.
Lee Jong-ho is a possibility to start. A pacy striker who likes to run at defenders, he is a very different option to Kim. Lee, once nicknamed ‘The Gwangyang Rooney’, offers a different option especially off the bench.
But there won’t be many changes. The big question is whether Choi Chul-soon, usually a right-back, plays as a holding midfield with special license to stop Omar Abdulrahman thrilling the home fans.
The physical approach of Jeonbuk’s play seemed to upset the rhythm of Omar and Al Ain. “The intensity of our approach seemed to work in the first leg,” said the official.
“We need to keep the same approach away. We know that they will attack us from the beginning but we can do the same. If we can get an early goal then it really will change everything.”
Al Ain can’t afford for that to happen or they are likely to join the group of former Asian champions to lose to Jeonbuk Motors at home. They can’t afford to become a member of that club, much better to be a part of one that is reserved for double Asian Champions League winners.