In this file photo from Jan. 11, 2021, Hong Myung-bo (C), head coach of Ulsan Hyundai FC, speaks to his players during a practice session at Gangdong Football Stadium in Ulsan, 415 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)
The South Korean football club Ulsan Hyundai FC departed for Qatar on Friday to represent Asia at an annual FIFA tournament.
Ulsan will compete at the Feb. 4-11 FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar against champions of other continental tournaments. The K League 1 club booked their spot by winning the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League last month, also in Qatar.
The FIFA tournament had been set for December but was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ulsan will face Tigres UANL in the first round next Thursday at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, just west of Doha. The kickoff is 5 p.m. (local time), or 11 p.m. (Seoul time). The Mexican club won the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Champions League to qualify for the Club World Cup.
The African champs Al Ahly will face the champions of the host country, Al Duhail, also next Thursday. Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga powerhouse and the reigning UEFA Champions League winners, have a bye to the semifinals. The South American champions to be determined Saturday will also advance straight to the semifinals.
With a win over Tigres UANL, Ulsan will face the South American side. But a loss will relegate Ulsan to the fifth-place match.
No South Korean team has won the FIFA Club World Cup, which began in 2000.
Ulsan have undergone drastic changes in the month since capturing the AFC title, including at the very top. Former South Korean national team head coach Hong Myung-bo is the new bench boss, and the FIFA Club World Cup will be his Ulsan coaching debut.
Ulsan have also lost the reigning K League 1 scoring champion, Junior Negrao, as well as midfielders Park Joo-ho and Sin Jin-ho.
They have signed Austrian international Lukas Hinterseer to address the scoring void, but he has yet to train with his new club.
Among the incumbents, midfielders Lee Chung-yong, Lee Dong-gyeog, and Koh Myong-jin, and defender Hong Chul will not travel with the club as they're still recovering from injuries.
Hong Myung-bo will have to rely heavily on the likes of Yoon Bitgaram, the AFC Champions League MVP, and Won Du-jae, one of South Korean football's brightest young stars known for his work ethic and positional versatility.
Qatar will set up a biosecure bubble for participating clubs. Ulsan said the entire team has tested negative for COVID-19. (Yonhap)