AFC Champions League: Ulsan Hyundai’s dream run in Qatar continues

Ulsan Hyundai AFC Champions League

It is quite fitting that Ulsan Hyundai, who marched into the East Zone Final of the 2020 AFC Champions League in centralized hosting venue Qatar on Thursday, played every single one of their five group matches in Education City Stadium.

After defeating their more glamourous opponents Beijing Guoan 2-0 in Thursday’s East Zone Semifinal, coach Kim revealed to the media the one single unifying strand running through his team which helped connect their on and off-field achievements – living life to the full despite the limiting external circumstances caused by the global pandemic outbreak.

“Even though we are limited to the hotel and training only, the players are enjoying their time here Qatar and enjoying the competition. I think we brought that onto the pitch and the players showed how much they wanted to win this game,” said Kim.

A day previously, while addressing the media, Kim had revealed that the three players who had joined the squad from Austria after the national team friendlies – namely defensive midfielder Won Du-jae, full-back Kim Tae-hwan and centre-back Jung Seung-Hyun — had all undergone self-quarantine for 10 days despite testing negative upon arrival in Qatar.

There had been an outbreak among six players, including Ulsan’s number one goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, ahead of the ‘Taeguk Warriors’ friendlies against Mexico and AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar. Right from the outset coach Kim was clear in his communication that the AFC and LOC had done a perfect job with respect to tournament health and safety protocol, especially the provision of excellent quarantine facilities.

“I am looking forward to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar now that I know how well this tournament has been organised,” said Kim. “We were tested for Coronavirus every time we played a game on the previous day – this made us feel safe and I need to thank the LOC and the AFC. The bubble system was implemented right through and we could not meet anyone from outside. Good quarantine infrastructure was provided for the three players.”

The tone was set right from the word go. During his first media interaction ahead of his club’s first centralized venue group game on 21 November, Kim had waxed eloquent about the strides made by Qatar in terms of tournament infrastructure and had specifically referred to Education City Stadium and an important accessory of the 2022 FIFA World Cup venue, the Advanced Stadium Cooling System.

“I came here twenty years ago as a Jeonbuk Hyundai player but now everything has changed. The place looks totally different. As a country hosting the World Cup, it is well prepared,” the 50-year-old former South Korea striker had said.

“The ground Education City Stadium and facilities are great. There is great involvement to play football here. The stadiums are kept cool at 23 degrees Celsius and this helps players a lot. I hope the players are motivated to be at their best.”

That is exactly what his players did. They combined perfectly as a team moving the ball around at ease in the midfield and finding the killer passes to penetrate rival defences.

If this was the story at Education City Stadium, where they played their East Zone Quarterfinal in addition to all group games, another 2022 WC venue Al Janoub Stadium brought out a different aspect of their game.

After taking an early first-half lead against the fancied Beijing Guoan in the East Zone Semifinal, Kim’s side showed great tactical nous and defensive technique for the rest of the match to set up an East Zone Final date with Vissel Kobe on Sunday.

Everyone played their role – from the experienced legend Lee Chung-yong to Won Du-jae, the brightest young defensive talent not just in Korea but arguably the whole of Asia who did a great job containing the dangerous Brazilian Renato Augusto.

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