3 out of 4 K League clubs reach knockouts at AFC Champions League

Lee Dong-jun of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (L) celebrates after scoring against Bangkok United during the clubs' Group F match at the Asian Football Confederation Champions League at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, on Dec. 13, 2023. (Yonhap)
(Source : Yonhap news)

Three out of four South Korean sides competing at Asia’s top club football tournament have reached the knockout phase, with the one team missing the party by a tiny margin.

Ulsan Hyundai FC, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Pohang Steelers of the K League 1 have advanced to the round of 16 at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, while Incheon United, also representing the K League 1, were sent packing this week.

There were 10 groups of four in the group stage, with clubs in “West Region,” including those from Iran, Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, drawn into Groups A to E, and teams in “East Region,” covering countries such as South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and Thailand, ending up in Groups F to J.

Ulsan Hyundai FC players (in black and yellow) react to their 2-2 draw against Kawasaki Frontale in the clubs' Group I match at the Asian Football Confederation Champions League at Munsu Football Stadium in the southeastern city of Ulsan on Dec. 12, 2023. (Yonhap)
(Source : Yonhap news)

The 10 group winners earned direct tickets to the knockouts, joined by the three best runner-up teams each from the West and the East.

Pohang won Group J with 16 points on five wins and a draw. Jeonbuk and Ulsan finished in second place in Groups F and I, but ended up among the three best No. 2 seeds in their region.

Incheon ranked third in Group G behind Yokohama F. Marinos from Japan and Shandong Taishan from China. All three clubs had 12 points apiece from four wins and two losses. The head-to-head goal difference broke the ties. Yokohama came out on top with +1, followed by Shandong’s zero. Incheon’s difference came to -1.

In their final group match Wednesday afternoon, Incheon did their part by beating Kaya-Iloilo of the Philippines by 3-1. But then Yokohama shut down Shandong 3-0 on the same day to grab the top seed on goal difference.

In this Xinhua photo, Choi Hyun-Woung (R) of Pohang Steelers battles Davidson Pereira of Wuhan Three Towns FC for the ball during the clubs' Group J match at the Asian Football Confederation Champions League at Wuhan Sports Center Stadium in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 6, 2023. (Yonhap)
(Source : Yonhap news)

Pohang locked down the top seed in Group J following a 1-1 draw against Wuhan Three Towns FC of China on Dec. 6. Pohang were one of four teams that went undefeated in the group stage.

Ulsan secured their knockout berth after playing Kawasaki Frontale of Japan to a 2-2 draw in Group I on Tuesday. The two-time K League 1 champions had three wins, one draw and two losses.

Jeonbuk joined them by holding off Bangkok United 3-2 Wednesday night. Bangkok still won Group F with 13 points, one better than Jeonbuk.

Incheon United players and coaches pose for photos after beating Kaya-Iloilo 3-1 in their Group G match at the Asian Football Confederation Champions League at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on Dec. 13, 2023, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
(Source : Yonhap news)

For this season, the AFC decided to return to the autumn-to-spring schedule for the first time since the 2002-2003 campaign. The group stage began in September, and the knockouts are scheduled for February. The championship final will be May 18.

Of the remaining K League trio, Pohang have won the most AFC title with three, while Ulsan and Jeonbuk have won two apiece.

(Source : Yonhap news)

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