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AFC Recap: FC Seoul 3-3 Urawa Reds (7-6 P.K.s) Part I

(From sports.media.daum.net)
Due to length and the fact that people have busy lives, I have decided to split this post into two parts.  Part one covers the first half.  Part two will cover the second half and extra time.  It will also have the video highlights.  

Seoul are through to the quarter finals, but they really had to work for it.  This really was a great game, an epic contest between two equally weighted teams, and neither deserved to exit via the round of 16.  It has been 15 hours since the game ended, but I am still feel the adrenaline from watching this back and forth contest.  I was on the edge of my seat for most of the game and my wife thought I was going to explode from the tension.  It was a hell of a game and flows well with the narrative of this year's  AFC Champions League (ACL).

Previously, I had written a post commenting on how interesting the ACL has been this year.  I thought the fact that big names such as Guangzhou Evergrande and Gamba Osaka exited early while Jiangsu Suning showed that spending a small fortune does not always equate to success.  There were some notable games as well such as FC Seoul's mauling of Buriram United (6-0) on the road and Binh Duong upsetting Jeonbuk (3-2), albeit, at home.

The knockout stages continue to be exciting, at least in the East Zone, as well.  All four games were tense affairs that went down to the final minutes.  Jeonbuk beat Melbourne Victory 3-2, but they were forced to sweat it out a bit.  Shanghai S.I.P.G. were able to overcome the stout resistance of FC Tokyo's defense to win in the final minute on Wu Lei's put back of a rebound in the 91st minute.  Shandong Luneng advance to the quarter finals, knocking out Sydney FC, even though Diego Tardelli had his PK blocked thanks to a screamer from Hao Junmin.  In my opinion though, the best game was last nights contest between FC Seoul and Urawa Reds.

After losing 1-0 in Japan, Seoul had their work cut out for them as they had to score against what seemed to be an impenetrable defense that has only conceded six goals in the J-League and 4 in the ACL,   Urawa have shown quality all year and it was their determination to battle back against Guangzhou Evergrande on the road when losing 2-0 to draw 2-2 that is a big reason why last year's ACL champions are sitting at home.  An epic contest was expected and neither side disappointed.

In Japan, manager Choi Yong-soo decided to insert Osmar in the midfield to play the role of the destroyer and Kim Nam-chun came in and played as the left CB in a three-man defense.  That night Seoul did not dominate the midfield, although Osmar did help create a great chance for Adriano in the first half with a looping over head ball to spring the offside trap.  They struggled to break down Urawa's defense and much more alarmingly, were shambolic defending.  Tomaya Ugajin's goal was lucky, but Urawa's lead was not undeserved as they created many of the better chances that night.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Choi decided to restore Osmar to his customary spot as the left CB. What was a surprise was his decision to give Yun Il-lok, in what must have been the biggest game of the year for Seoul so far, the start in the center of the midfield since he has only played 90 minute all season prior to last night.  The critics will say that Choi was lucky that this move did not backfire because Yun was poor for most of the game, but when he was subbed off, Urawa began to ascend and were unlucky not to finish the game in regulation.  Of course, the same could be said of Seoul as Adriano selfishly chose to shoot rather than pass to a wide open Park Chu-young, but more on that later.

I missed all of the first half because as always, I had to work, but from watching the highlights it is evident that Seoul came out strong.  Ju Se-jong, who was involved in nearly anything positive that Seoul did, nearly scored from a free kick in the 2nd minute and delivered a scintillating ball over the top in the 12th minute that Adriano just missed heading into the goal.

Likewise, Dejan had a really good first half as well.  He blasted over the bar in the 20th minute, dicked around for too long with the ball in the 23rd minute after being found by Adriano (what an interception by Osmar though), but finally got on the score sheet in the 29th minute.  Again, it was from the great play of Adriano that Seoul were able to equalize.

(Excuse the play arrow, from sports.media.daum.net)
I have marked the three players most involved in the goal.  Initially, Urawa's sweeper Wataru Endo gets the ball and is going to play it out of the back, but I guess he takes a bad touch because the ball gets away from him.  Adriano has the presence of mind to recognize the situation, steal the ball, rampage into the box, and set up Dejan for an easy tap in.

Last year, I was impressed with Adriano's ability to seemingly drift through games offering little but then turn up at the right moment to score a critical goal.  This year, he has stepped it up and is becoming a complete player.  His ability to pass the ball is quite pleasing, but what I find to be the biggest surprise is his pressing.   With each passing week, he does something sublime that often times, borders on genius, and I am really coming to appreciate his intelligence and skill.

The first half went as well as could be expected with Seoul scoring an equalizer and the only thing that would have made it better was getting a second.  Seoul were scintillating and looked the team that started the season so strongly, but much of that was probably down to Urawa's approach.  Doing their best to hold on to the slim lead they established in Japan, the Urawa players rarely ventured up field and conceded 3/4 of the pitch to Seoul.  Here is an example below.

(From sports.media.daum.net)
This is after Dejan should have scored around the 22nd or 23rd minute.  Urawa cleared the ball, but Kim Dong-woo (rectangle) easily intercepted and it charged forward.  Osmar (circle), the left CB is still in the box and calling for the ball.  I just find it amazing that Urawa were so far back that both of Seoul's CBs felt it was safe to venture into the Urawa half and join the attack.  I think that is why Urawa found themselves down 1-0 more than anything that Seoul, who were still great, did on the pitch.

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