The first round was a relatively successful one for the Korean teams involved as all but Jeju United came away with at least a point. The highlight of the round was Suwon Bluewing’s 2-0 victory in Sydney. Also returning from Australia unscathed were Ulsan as they boarded the plane home with a share of the points while Jeonbuk came from behind to take full points in Jeonju.
Kitchee vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Jeonbuk will travel to Hong Kong joint top of their group after a quite incredible comeback at home against Kashiwa Reysol in a match which they trailed 2-0 at half-time. Both of Kashiwa’s goals had come from goalkeeping mistakes as Hong Jeong Nam was having an absolute nightmare. Whatever Choi Kang Hee said at HT must have worked as Jeonbuk came out for the 2nd half a different team. If Hong was the villain then it was Lee Dong Gook who was to be the hero as he scored a brace either side of a Kim Jin Su goal to lead Jeonbuk to a 3-2 victory, the second goal being a beautiful curling shot from the edge of the box.
They travel to Hong Kong to face a Kitchee side that lost 3-0 to Tianjin Qaunjian but who will be hoping that home advantage can make them tough to beat. They do boast Diego Forlan in their squad and he has been hitting the back of net recently and is especially prolific form set-pieces. They sit comfortably at the top of the Hong Kong Premier League and could pose a threat to what looked like a shaky defence and a nerve-stricken goalkeeper. Jeonbuk have a pretty horrendous away record in the ACL, having won only three from the last seventeen on their travels. Going forward they look to be potent, can they plug the gaps at the back though? That is the question.
Prediction : Away Win : Kitchee 1 Jeonbuk 2
Ulsan Hyudai vs Kawasaki Frontale
Kawasaki visit Korea on the back of a 1-0 home defeat to group favorites Shanghai SIPG and knowing that a defeat could leave them with a bit of a mountain to climb. Ulsan had their foreign contingent to thank for the point won in Melbourne as both Mislav Orsic (2) and Richard Windbichler hit the net in their dramatic 3-3 draw. It was a fantastic result for the K-League team but questions do need to be asked about their mental strength after taking the lead three times only to be pegged back time again, the fact that each lead only lasted a maximum of 3 minutes is also of concern.
With Melbourne travelling to China its a great opportunity for Ulsan to put some light between themselves and the other teams before their Shanghai double-header. Ulsan will of course want to forget the last time Japanese competition came to town as Kashima Anters routed them 4-0 in last year’s tournament. They did beat Frontale the last time they met at the Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium back in 2014, 2-0 victors that night. They showed in the last round that they could score, the question is can they hold onto a lead at home?
Prediction : Score Draw : Ulsan Hyundai 1 Kawasaki Frontale 1
Buriram United vs Jeju United
Jeju travel to Thailand with it all to do after losing their home clash to Cerezo Osaka in a match which seen happy returns to Korea for Matej Jonjic and Yang Dong Hyun. It wasn’t exactly an epic match and it had all the look and feel of a pre-season clash if the truth be told with neither team really creating much. With the game coming to an end it was to be yet another Korean goalkeeping error that would result in the home team going behind. A fairly harmless shot was directed towards Lee Chang Geun who came out to collect the ball only to forget he could use his hands, he seemed to try and knee the ball, miss, and Koto Mizunuma was left with the easiest of tasks to slot the ball home and take all 3pts.
Luckily for Jeju, Guangzhou Evergrande were huffing and puffing to a 1-1 draw with Buriram in China. That result in Guangzhou might just give Jeju hope that they can get their campaign back on track when the meet the Asian ‘Galacticos’ in their double-header. Jeju’s away form in the ACL is a mixed bag with as many wins as defeats, but given last week’s result in China they might just face a Buriram team with the bit between their teeth. In five home clashes with K-League teams Buriram have only the solitary win (2-1 against Seongnam in 2015) and most recently found themselves on the end of an embarrassing 6-0 defeat to FC Seoul. They do seem to go through 2yr cycles of being good then poor, is this their time to be good again?
Prediction : Score Draw : Buriram 1 Jeju 1
Suwon Bluewings vs Kashima Antlers
The Bluewings had by far the best result of all the K-League teams in Round 1 as they defeated A-League leaders Sydney courtesy of a Dejan brace. With the game level at half-time it was already looking like Suwon would come home with at least a point as Sydney were beginning to look like they could play all night and not score. Dejan has taken no time at all to endear himself to his new fans and was the main driving force behind everything good in a dark blue shirt. The first goal was a ‘daisy-cutter’ from the edge of the box and the second a perfect penalty after a slightly contentious handball was awarded. The other match in the group was a 1-1 draw as Kashima were held at home by Shanghai Shenhua which leaves the K-League team in pole position already.
Suwon lost the last time a J-League team visited when Kawasaki Frontale left the Big Bird with a 1-0 victory in hand, that match will also be remembered for some off-pitch shenanigans as both sets of fans clashed over a rather political flag. You have to go back to Feb 2015 for the last time that Suwon defeated a J-League team at home when they came from behind to beat Urawa Reds 2-1, and indeed the last time they hosted Kashima (in 2011) it finished 1-1, a certain Yeom Ki Hun scoring that night. This year though the Bluewings look a lot more incisive up front and if Yeom or Lim Sang Hyub are given space they will cause problems for any team with Dejan more than capable of converting any chance that comes his way.
Prediction : Home Win : Suwon Bluewings 2 Kashima Antlers 1