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Struggles continue for S. Korean teams at AFC Champions League

All News 10:23 March 05, 2020

SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- This has been an unusual and trying season for South Korean football -- in particular for four K League 1 clubs participating in an annual Asian club tournament.

The start of the K League season has been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak. And the league's four representatives in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League -- FC Seoul, Ulsan Hyundai FC, Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors -- have had their matches postponed and road trips disrupted, all because of the virus, too.

In this EPA photo, Choi Bo-kyung of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (L) is shown a red card during an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League Group H match against Sydney FC at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Sydney on March 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

Given that these four teams have combined for just one win after six matches, it's apparent that they haven't been able to get into any sort of rhythm.

Suwon made a longer-than-normal trip to Malaysia to face Johor Darul Ta'zim and lost 2-1 on Tuesday in Group G. The following day, Jeonbuk went down a man in the second half against Sydney FC in Australia, but managed a last-gasp equalizer to pull out a 2-2 draw in Group H.

Suwon have lost their first two matches, while Jeonbuk have a draw and a loss after their two contests. Ulsan have played once in Group F and had a 1-1 draw against FC Tokyo on Feb. 11. FC Seoul's 1-0 win over Melbourne Victory in Group E on Feb. 18 remains the only win from a K League team so far.

FC Seoul's scheduled home match against Chiangrai United on Tuesday was postponed after the Thai club refused to travel to the South Korean capital, citing the virus outbreak. Ulsan's home match versus Perth Glory, set for Wednesday, has instead become an away match for March 18, also because of COVID-19. Ulsan are now scheduled to host Perth on April 7 but that could also change, depending on the situation with the virus.

In this file photo from Feb. 18, 2020, FC Seoul players (R) celebrate a goal against Melbourne Victory during the teams' Group E match at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Earlier this week, Suwon had to take a detour through Kuala Lumpur to get to Johor, instead of traveling on a shorter route through Singapore. Johor is just north of Singapore, but nearly 300 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur. But with Singapore barring the entry and transit of travelers from South Korea, Suwon had no other choice.

Counting the time spent waiting for their connecting flight, Suwon spent 18 hours on the road. The Singapore route would have taken eight hours.

The toll from the trip showed on the field for Suwon, who gave up both goals on set-pieces while battling in hot, humid conditions. It was Suwon's first match in two weeks.

With two losses, Suwon are in last place in Group G. The Chinese giants Guangzhou Evergrande have yet to play a match because of the virus, and once they return, they could run the table and finish atop the group when it's all said and done.

Suwon head coach Lee Lim-saeng said after the latest loss that he didn't want to make any excuses, but added if anyone had to be made a scapegoat, it was himself.

"The players did the best they could under the circumstances, and I don't want to blame them for this loss," Lee said. "Some of the external factors affected their play. But ultimately, this result is on me as their coach."

Jeonbuk were playing for the first time in three weeks when they faced Sydney FC. The three-time reigning K League 1 champions had fallen to Yokohama F. Marinos 2-1 at home on Feb. 12.

This file photo from Feb. 19, 2020, shows mask-wearing fans attending an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League match between the home team Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Vissel Kobe at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

And the 2-2 draw flattered the rusty Jeonbuk, who lost Choi Bo-kyung to a second yellow of the match for handball in the 75th minute. Han Kyo-won's equalizer in the 89th salvaged a point for Jeonbuk, whose next scheduled match isn't until April 7 at home against the same Sydney FC.

With much uncertainty surrounding both the league and AFC fixtures, the collective struggles may well continue for the K League clubs this spring.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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