Suwon grab last-16 spot; ACL heads to knockouts

DOHA: Kobe’s midfielder Takuya Yasui (left) is tackled by Suwon’s midfielder Han Suk-Jong during the AFC Champions League group G football match between Japan’s Vissel Kobe and Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings on December 4, 2020. – AFP

DOHA: Suwon Samsung Bluewings grabbed the last available round-of-16 spot in the Asian Champions League with a 2-0 win over Vissel Kobe in the competition’s final group stage game on Friday. The South Koreans needed to win by a two-goal margin to overtake China’s Guangzhou Evergrande on goal difference and that was exactly what they did as Kim Gun-hee and Lim Sang-Hyeob each struck in the second half at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

Vissel Kobe were the first team to qualify for the next phase in the three-team Group G while two-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande had already completed their four matches with five points and were hoping Suwon slipped up in their last-gasp bid to make the cut. But Fabio Cannavaro’s frustrations only grew as he watched Suwon progress from his bio-secure hotel room in the Qatari capital, capping a disappointing year during which Guangzhou were dethroned as Chinese Super League champions by first-time winners Jiangsu Suning.

Suwon, who lost 1-0 to Guangzhou when they clashed in February before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Asian Football Confederation to stop proceedings, had only 43-percent possession on Friday but made good of the opportunities that came their way. Kim struck first in the 49th minute with a header from an excellent corner taken by Lee-Kee-je while Lim scored from the penalty spot in the 68th after Vissel Kobe’s Takuya Yasui handled the ball inside the box.

Suwon then hung on tenaciously to earn a last-16 clash with Yokohama F. Marinos on Monday, to the relief of coach Park Kun-ha. “It was a difficult situation and I was aware of that and the players were too,” said Park. “We were talking for the past couple of days that the players should not give up and I think that played a role in us winning today,” he added.

Jeonbuk save pride
Earlier on Friday, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors outclassed Shanghai SIPG with a 2-0 victory, a result that helped the two-time champions from South Korea bow out of the competition with some pride intact. Sydney FC meanwhile claimed a 1-1 draw with Yokohama F Marinos by holding the group toppers from Japan despite finishing bottom with five points from six matches, which included just one win. With Shanghai SIPG and Yokohama F. Marinos already in the last 16, Friday’s Group H matches were only meant to complete the formalities.

Also playing at the Khalifa International Stadium, Jeonbuk were served well by Cho Gue-sung whose first-half double helped the South Koreans establish an early foothold on the match against the Chinese giants who fielded several untested players. Cho put Jeonbuk ahead in the 16th minute with a header from the centre of the box from a measured cross from Lee Sung-hoon, catching the Shanghai SIPG defence by surprise.

As Shanghai SIPG struggled to gain control, Jeonbuk consolidated their advantage, scoring from a penalty in the 32nd after another Lee pass found Cho, but his shirt was pulled preventing him from taking a shot. Cho fired home with a confident shot from the spot to give the Koreans a comfortable cushion, which they maintained until the end. Jeonbuk’s Portuguese coach Jose Morias was in a positive mood after the three points despite coming to the end of his contract with the side, having already announced his intention to move back to Europe after leading them to the K League title last month.

“Today I am smiling for the effort of the players and because it was our last game together. It’s good to end things with a positive memory,” said Morais, who has worked as Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea. “I believe in the future of the club. Some of the young players in the team have a lot of quality and I know the club has the right set-up to enable them to be successful.” – AFP

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