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K League's Ulsan Hyundai drop opening match at FIFA Club World Cup

Kee-hee Kim of Ulsan Hyundai celebrates with his teammates during Tigres UANL v Ulsan Hyundai FC on Thursday in Doha, Qatar. (Yonhap)
Kee-hee Kim of Ulsan Hyundai celebrates with his teammates during Tigres UANL v Ulsan Hyundai FC on Thursday in Doha, Qatar. (Yonhap)
South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai FC have lost their opening match of the FIFA Club World in Qatar to fall to a consolation game.

Ulsan lost to Tigres UANL of Mexico 2-1 at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, just west of Doha, on Thursday to kick off the 17th edition of the FIFA tournament. French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac scored twice for Tigres, while Kim Kee-hee had the lone goal for Ulsan in the first half.

The Club World Cup brings together continental champions each year, plus the domestic league champions of the host country. Ulsan qualified for the event by winning the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, while Tigres won the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Champions League.

Ulsan's loss ensures that the K League will remain without a Club World Cup champion. Pohang Steelers came the closest by finishing in third place in 2009.

Ulsan will now play in the fifth-place match in the six-team competition on Sunday, back at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, against Al Duhail SC. The Qatari league champions lost to the African winners Al Ahly SC 1-0 in their opening match on Thursday. The Ulsan-Al Duhail match kicks off at 6 p.m. Sunday local time, or midnight Sunday in South Korea.

Tigres moved on to the next round against the South American champions, SE Palmeiras, and Al Ahly will take on FC Bayern Munich, the European winners.

Ulsan had the first goal in the 24th minute, when Kim Kee-hee headed in a corner taken by Yoon Bitgaram.

Yoon sent a low kick from the left corner and Kim snuck in from behind the unsuspecting defense to deftly redirect the ball home.

At the other end, Ulsan goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo made a couple of huge saves from close range over a two-minute stretch starting in the 36th, barely keeping his side ahead.

But Tigres' onslaught proved too much, as Gignac volleyed home a headed pass from Diego Reyes in the 38th minute to knot the score at 1-1.

Gignac converted a last-minute penalty to put Tigres up 2-1 at the end of the first half, after Kim Kee-hee, the Ulsan goal scorer, was called for a handball violation in the box.

The foul wasn't called initially, but a video assistant referee (VAR) called down to the on-field referee to halt the action and review the situation. It only took a few seconds before Kim was charged with the handball. His fall from early hero to goat was complete when Gignac converted the spot kick.

Ulsan thought they had tied things up in the 58th minute on a gorgeous goal by Yoon. The midfielder trapped a long pass from Dave Bulthuis with his chest, and then turned and fired it into the net before the ball touched the ground.

But Yoon was ruled offside. A replay showed that he was just barely so, and the close call took the wind out of Ulsan's sails.

Tigres had 11 shot attempts to Ulsan's six.

This was Ulsan coaching debut for Hong Myung-bo, the South Korean legend who was named the club's new bench boss in late December.

Hong said after the match that his players "gave their 100 percent" against a tough opponent, considering the circumstances.

Ulsan were without some key players, such as midfielder Lee Chung-yong and defender Hong Chul, who are rehabbing from injuries at home and didn't travel to Qatar, and have also lost forward Junior Negrao, the reigning K League scoring champion, during the offseason.

"I think we did a good job on the defensive end," Hong said. "After we scored the first goal, we were pushed around a little bit by their attack. But I could live with that, and I think our players responded well overall. We do need to address the fact that we gave up both of the goals on set pieces."

There were stretches when Ulsan were in control of the match, though they weren't able to sustain that edge for 90 minutes.

"I think we executed our game plan fairly well," Hong added. "Early on, we responded well to their attacks on the flanks. And we made some adjustments as necessary in the second half. We didn't have any particular difficulties, except for the way we failed to survive their onslaught after our first goal." (Yonhap)
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