Two of the top teams in the K League 1 have suffered shock defeats in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League in Southeast Asia. Two-time Champions League winners Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai suffered humiliating defeats in South Korea’s biggest clubs.
On July 7 and 8 (KST), Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai played their fourth group stage matches of the 2023/24 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League in Malaysia and Singapore, respectively.
Ulsan hosted Johor Darul Taqzim at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, for their Group I match.
Earlier, Ulsan took the third leg 3-1 at home against Johor. After taking a five-minute lead through Jeong Seung-hyun in the first half and multi-goal efforts from Rubiksson in the 12th and 18th minutes, Ulsan held on for all three points despite being outnumbered after Kim Tae-hwan was sent off in the 36th minute for accumulating cautions, conceding just one goal through Bertsson eight minutes into the second half.
Ulsan then immediately sought to avenge last year’s away match in Johor, where they suffered a 1-2 shock loss in the 2022 season. Moreover, Ulsan had just won the 35th round of the Hana OneQ K League 2023 with a 2-0 victory over Daegu FC on the 29th of last month, securing their first back-to-back K League 1 victories since their inception.
Head coach Hong Myung-bo said, “We have secured the title, but we haven’t done the winning ceremony yet, so our players can focus on the ACL and take it seriously. We will continue to focus on the ACL and prepare well for tomorrow’s game.”
However, the game did not go Ulsan’s way. After a tightly contested first half, Ulsan fell behind in the 44th minute to Heberti. The Japanese midfielder Ataru equalized in the 24th minute of the second half, and it looked like they were going to get a point, but Rashid Akiya scored the winning goal in the 43rd minute of the second half, resulting in a 1-2 loss. It was the same scoreline as last year.
While their opponents have a solid squad, including a number of national team players, and boast huge stadiums and facilities, they are technically a level or two below Korean soccer. Against Johor, however, Ulsan was brought to its knees for a second straight away defeat.
While it was said that the team was not motivated by an early win at the end of the season, the team’s recent league form has not been great.
Ulsan remained second in the group (W2 D2 L6 G2). They have a goal difference advantage over third-placed Johor (2W, 2L, 6D, 0G), but their upcoming schedule could make it difficult for them to finish second.
Ulsan will play their final group games away to BG Pathum (Thailand) on Nov. 28 and at home against Kawasaki Frontale (Japan) on Nov. 12. While it is mathematically possible to catch Kawasaki, who have a four-game head-to-head lead, it will be important to see how Ulsan will be motivated to win both matches. The loss to Johor has already tarnished their reputation as the strongest team in the K League.
The mood in Jeonbuk is not good either. Under Dan Petrescu, Jeonbuk’s travels to Southeast Asia in the Champions League have been a nightmare.굿모닝토토
On March 4, Jeonbuk suffered a 2-3 reverse in their second group game against Bangkok United (Thailand). The next game, against Ryan City (Singapore), saw Jeonbuk go down 0-2.
While Jeonbuk showed the will to fight back in Bangkok, they were unable to do so in Ryan City. Both goals were conceded because the defense was not properly organized. In the attacking third, they were unable to exploit the opposition defense.
Thailand has one of the best soccer teams in Southeast Asia and a high level of foreign talent, including players from the K League and J League. However, it’s hard to believe that a Singaporean professional team, ranked in the top 160 of the FIFA rankings, would go down without scoring a single goal.
To make matters worse, Jeonbuk lost Lee Dong-joon and Gustavo to injury, putting them at a disadvantage in their upcoming league and Champions League schedule.
Jeonbuk has lost its way throughout the season. As the 2023 season draws to a close, Jeonbuk has no chance of securing a Champions League elite ticket for the upcoming 2024/25 season, let alone a ticket to Champions League 2, the newly launched next tier that will be awarded to the top three teams in the league. Jeonbuk also lost the FA Cup in the final to the Pohang Steelers in an upset, marking the club’s first season without an elite ticket in 10 years.
When the Champions League group draw was announced this season, Jeonbuk was the envy of other K League teams competing in the Champions League as there were no teams from China, Japan, or Australia. However, after two consecutive losses in Southeast Asia, Jeonbuk’s chances of qualifying for the tournament are now in doubt.
Second in Group F (2W-2D-6G-1L), Jeonbuk is tied for second place with third-placed Ryan City (2W-2D-6G-1L).
If they don’t take both of their remaining games away to Hong Kong and at home to Bangkok, they’ll be unseated by first-place Bangkok (3 wins, 1 draw, 10 points) and their second-place spot will be in jeopardy.
In the Champions League East Asia, the top five group winners and the best three finishers from each group advance to the round of 16. Both Ulsan and Jeonbuk need to finish second to keep their chances of at least making the round of 16 alive. Based on their current performances, this will not be easy.
With motivation fading at the end of the K League, the only motivation left is the Champions League tournament phase starting next February.
Jeonbuk, which built a K League dynasty, and Ulsan, which is making history by winning back-to-back titles for the first time in its history, are both big clubs in Asia that have won the Champions League twice (2006-2016 and 2012-2020).
With both big clubs having tasted bitterness on the road in Southeast Asia, they will need to stay focused and mentally resilient until the end of the season to continue their Champions League schedule early next year. It’s time for a thorough rehabilitation and turnaround.