Jeonbuk may cap Korean hat-trick

Jeonbuk may cap Korean hat-trick

SEOUL, South Korea - The Associated Press
Jeonbuk may cap Korean hat-trick

South Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors participate to a training session as their team prepares for the AFC Champions League final with Qatar’s Al Sadd in Jeonju. AFP photo

Jeonbuk Motors will try to make it three in a row for South Korea when it meets Qatari squad Al Sadd in the Asian Champions League final on Nov. 5.

Jeonbuk, which also won the Champions League title in 2006, will have the advantage of playing at home, though the team will also be without captain Cho Sung-hwan and Croatian striker Krunoslav Lovrek, both of whom are suspended.

To make matters worse, Lee Dong-gook, the tournament’s leading scorer, may not play after suffering a thigh injury.

A Japanese or Korean team has won the title for each of the last five years. After Jeonbuk’s inaugural victory, J-League teams Urawa Reds (2007) and Gamba Osaka (2008) came out on top, followed by K-League clubs Pohang Steelers (2009) and Seongnam Ilhwa (2010).

Al Sadd is looking to become the first Qatari winner of the tournament since its inception in 2003 and the first team from western Asia to win since Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad did it in 2005.

Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee, who led the team to the 2006 championship, said he believes his side has enough quality players to overcome the absences of Cho and Lovrek.

“From the beginning of the season our aim was the K-League and the Asian Champions League and we have strength in depth,” said Choi. “Our game will not be greatly affected if one or two players are missing.” Cho received his second yellow card of the knockout stage in the second leg of the semifinal against Al Ittihad last week, while Lovrek was shown two yellow cards in the span of six minutes during the match.

Choi confirmed that Lee may not be fully recovered in time to play Saturday, but he was hopeful that the former Premier League striker would at least be able to make an appearance in the match.

Jeonbuk has managed 31 goals in the tournament’s 11 games so far and has won all six matches it has played at home.

“Individually, Al Sadd has many talented players and the defense is well-organized but we have played against such teams in the league all season and performed well,” Choi said. “We know exactly what we have to do. We are at home and at home we are strong and it is an advantage and we will do all we can to get the win.” Al Sadd is also deeply unpopular in South Korea after eliminating another K-League team, Suwon Bluewings, in the other semifinal last week. After Al Sadd beat Suwon at home in the first leg, a mass brawl broke out between the teams.

The South Korean media, which nicknamed the Qatari team “Al Badd,” have heavily criticized the Asian Football Confederation for giving a six-game ban to Suwon’s Stevica Ristikj following the fight, but allowing another player who was red-carded in the incident, Al Sadd’s Kader Keita, to continue playing in the tournament.

Keita will be available for Saturday’s game against Jeonbuk, as will Senegalese striker Mamadou Niang, who was also sent off during the match. Midfielder Mesaad Al Hamad is out after suffering a broken nose in the fight.

If Al Sadd wins, it would become the first team to lift the trophy after going through the qualifying rounds.

The Qatari side even ran into controversy in that stage of the tournament. The team only got into qualifying after a Vietnamese club was expelled for failing to submit the correct documentation.

Then, the Qataris were beaten by Sepahan of Iran 1-0 in the first leg of their quarterfinal, but the AFC overturned the result and handed Al Sadd a 3-0 win after it ruled that Sepahan had fielded an ineligible player.

Al Sadd coach Jorge Fossati insists that his team is in the final on merit and should not be underestimated.

“The teams who have made it to the final in this type of competition have earned their place,” the Uruguayan said as his team arrived in South Korea on Thursday evening.

“Jeonbuk are a very good team, and we must take care and respect them, but they must respect and take care with us,” said Fossati, who took Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia to the semifinals last year.

“It is a long trip and the players are tired,” he added. “This is my main concern, to make sure they recover between now and the time of the game.”