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K-League continues strong play in region

The South Korean national team has not won the Asian Cup since 1960, but domestic teams have no such problems when it comes to Asian club football. The K-League has a special relationship with Asian club competitions.

The facts speak for themselves. Korean club teams have been champions of Asia a record nine times. Fellow continental powerhouses Japan and Saudi Arabia are next best with five championships each. Three of the past five winners of the Asian Football Confederation Champions League have come from the K-League. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma is the defending champion while Pohang Steelers won the AFC Champions League in 2009 to earn the trophy for a third time to become the most successful club in Asian history.

In 2010, K-League teams recorded an unprecedented achievement. Out of the 32 teams that started the competition, divided into eight groups of four from which the top two progress to the round of 16, five nations ― South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China ― are each allowed four representatives. All four Korean teams progressed to the last 16, matching the 2009 achievement of Saudi Arabia.

Seongnam, Suwon Bluewings, Pohang and Jeonbuk Motors didn’t stop there and continued to the quarterfinal stage.

Afshin Ghotbi is the head coach of one of Japan’s top teams, Shimizu S-Pulse. He arrived in the country in February after 18 months in charge of the Iranian national team. As a former assistant of South Korea, he knows Asian and Korean football very well.

“Korean players are physically the best in Asia with the fighting spirit, technical speed and ambition to match it,” said Ghotbi. “The Japanese clubs historically are the only competition for the Korean clubs in the preliminary rounds, giving the Korean teams a better chance to reach the final stages of the competition. ... The later stages of the Champions League coincide with the later stages of the K-League, making the Korean teams favorites in the competition.”

The format in 2011 remains the same ― clubs from all over Asia battling through the group stage to reach the knockout stages of the tournament with the final to be held in November. The winner also is granted entry to FIFA’s Club World Cup in December.

The 2011 competition is now at the halfway point of the group stage after the third round of games was completed on April 5 and 6. As it stands, the K-League’s FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings lead their groups. Jeonbuk Motors is tied with Cerezo Osaka of Japan atop their group based on points, with Jeonbuk leading in goal differential and Cerezo Osaka leading based on the result of their match against each other. Meanwhile, Jeju, is second in its group.

There is still much work to be done before teams can be assured of progression to the round of 16, but K-League clubs have already made their mark on this year’s tournament. On matchday two of the group stage, the four Korean teams posted the best round of results in the competition’s history from a single country. All four Korean teams collected wins, scoring a combined total of 13 goals while conceding just one. Jeju United started the ball rolling with a 2-1 victory at Melbourne Victory, FC Seoul defeated Chinese team Hangzhou Greentown, then Jeonbuk Motors traveled to Indonesia to win 4-0 at Arema Malang, and Suwon Bluewings ended the round with a 4-0 victory over Shanghai Shenhua. 

(Yonhap News)
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