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FC Seoul aim to stay perfect in Champions League as striker Park Chu-young gears up to form

All Headlines 17:02 April 04, 2016

SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korean outfit FC Seoul will look to stay perfect at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League when they host China's Shandong Luneng on Tuesday.

Striker Park Chu-young has returned to form to boost FC Seoul's formidable firepower, just in time for the club to host Shandong at Seoul World Cup Stadium for their Group F match at the Asia's premier club competition.

The victory at home will be Seoul's fourth straight AFC Champions League (ACL), and will secure the club a spot at the knockout stage regardless of two remaining group matches. With 32 teams paired into eight groups of four, the top two teams from each group will enter the round of 16.

Seoul, the ACL runner-up in 2002 and 2013, have been using Brazilian striker Carlos Adriano and Montenegrin forward Dejan Damjanovic as their two main goal poachers in the 3-5-2 formation. But head coach Choi Yong-soo said Monday he now has "pleasant homework" for his forward combination after watching the revival of striker Park Chu-young, who scored two goals to lead Seoul's 3-1 victory over Incheon United at the domestic top-flight K League Classic on Saturday.

"Since we have players who can finish, I have pleasant homework; I need to think about when would be the best time to use each of these players," Choi said during a press conference on Monday. "Since Park is a player who knows what his responsibility is, he will do his job well."

Park returned to the K League Classic last April for the first time in eight years, signing with his old club FC Seoul. He'd won the league's top rookie award with the team in 2005. The former Arsenal and AS Monaco player had seven goals and two assists in 23 league matches last season and helped Seoul win the Korean Football Association (FA) Cup. However, the latter half of his season was marred by injuries from knee to foot.

Saturday was Park's first multi-goal performance since March 2007, raising expectations for the striker. After grabbing a double, Park said his physical condition is about 80 percent ready, but will be better as the season goes on.

Choi hinted that he can use Park as a substitute against Shandong on Tuesday as he plans to rotate players to manage their stamina. The coach emphasized that in order to survive from the tight schedule of the domestic league and the ACL, Seoul need to be smart on how and when to use players.

"(Park) should have gained confidence after scoring goals, but should be tired as well," Choi said. "Of course, he can be on the pitch when he is in good condition, but I have to talk with him first."

Park has yet to score at the ACL this season, while Seoul have collected 14 goals in three matches. Adriano leads the way with the tournament-leading nine goals, while Damjanovic has two.

Even if he doesn't play against Shandong, Park will not be disappointed as long as Seoul win. Though Adriano and Damjanovic have taken away his playing time, Park has said he is willing to sacrifice himself for the team.

"Even though Dejan is a foreigner, he plays with as much devotion for the club as any other Korean player, and that's why we can play comfortably with him," Park said after Saturday's match. "Adriano always maintains his scoring touch. Whomever we play, we will be challenging to our opponents."

Choi hopes that three forwards will create a harmony and maintain the team's intensity throughout the season.

Seoul beat Shandong 4-1 in their first encounter last month, and are on the verge of punching their ticket ACL knockout stage, but the 42-year-old coach said it is too early to be in a celebratory mood. Choi said that he wants Seoul to pass the group stage as the winner.

"Shandong have good foreign players and the game can turn into their favor at any time," Choi said. "We are in a difficult situation in terms of players' stamina, but our players should overcome it with their strong mentality."

kdon@yna.co.kr
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