South Korea have been the most successful side in ACL history, and Jeonbuk themselves won the competition in 2006 and also reached the final in 2011. However, with the capitulation of FC Seoul, Suwon Bluewings, and Seongnam FC in this year’s Round of Sixteen, it is up to Jeonbuk to fly the flag for Korea. The K-League champions are cruising towards a second title in two years, and despite their recent defeat to Pohang, are still a long way clear of second-placed Suwon. Despite this they have strengthened over the summer with the Champions’ League in mind.
Top scorer Edu might have left the club, moving to Chinese side Hebei Zhongzi, but Jeonbuk have replaced him well, bringing in Spanish forward Urko Vera, and Korean international Lee Geun-Ho. Lee was voted Asian Player of the Season back in 2012 when he helped Ulsan Hyundai win their first ACL title, and he has moved back to Korea, on loan from Qatari side Al Jaish for the remainder of the season. Urko Vera has had an impressive last two seasons in Spain’s Segunda Division, in 2014 the former Athletic Bilbao man helped Eibar win promotion to La Liga for the first time in their history, whilst last season he notched up seventeen goals for Mirandes. Jeonbuk have also brought back former-player Luiz Henrique who, despite being thirty-four, gives them another option in attack.
In the Round of Sixteen, Jeonbuk overcame Beijing Guoan, beating the Chinese side two-one on aggregate. However, blocking their way to a semi-final appearance are Japanese Champions Gamba Osaka. Osaka made light work of FC Seoul in the last round, winning six-three on aggregate. The main man that the Jeonbuk defence will have to stop is Japanese international, and one-time Bayern Munich striker Takashi Usami. Usami has already scored sixteen league goals and four goals in the ACL this season, including two against FC Seoul in the previous round. With the possibility of extra-time, both sides will be concerned about the fitness of their players, especially thirty-five year old Osaka captain Yasuhito Endo, who was with the club when they last won this competition in 2008. Jeonbuk’s captain Lee Dong-Gook is no spring chicken himself, he and fellow striker Luiz have a combined age of seventy! With the weather still very hot and humid, the team that prepares best for this tie, and avoids fatigue, will likely have a huge advantage. The first leg takes place on the 26th August with the second leg coming three weeks later on 16th September.
By Steven Price