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Writers Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Club América Club World Cup Preview

FIFA Club World Cup Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Club America

With the rest of their K-League contemporaries having wrapped up 2016, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' season has been extended into mid-December as they head to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup, a reward for their AFC Champions League triumph two weeks ago. The first knockout leg sees them face Liga MX side Club América who are looking to finish their centennial year in style. FMF State of Mind's Rafael Diaz kindly joins our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns (myself) to help preview this Sunday's fixture.

Matthew asks, Rafael answers

Matthew Binns: Club America come into this tie on the back of a Liga MX semi final victory over Necaxa last weekend. With the final to follow later this month, and this long trip to Japan sandwiched in the middle, do you think there could be a slight hangover for this team this weekend?

Rafael Diaz: Without question. It will be all the more frustrating because this is a Club America team that is extremely banged up with injuries. In addition to starting right-back Paul Aguilar, who is out for the season, Bruno Valdez and Javier Guemez are still recovering from heavy knocks. Then there is captain Rubens Sambueza. Lionised as a club icon, the experienced midfielder hasn't played a single minute in weeks.

That said, like most modern day clubs, America enjoy all the necessary commodities to arrive to gameday in tip-top shape. With the experience from last year's Club World Cup under their belt and the desire to surpass it, there is little reason for it to be more than "slight".

MB: How do you see Club America approaching this fixture in terms of tactics and formation?

RD: Under Ricardo La Volpe, Club America have been far from scintillating, but they are seemingly focused on what matters most, not losing. The club has yet to lose a game since La Volpe took over back in September, and whereas the team had a tendency to fade and lose their discipline under former coach Ignacio Ambriz, La Volpe has found a way to bring out the best from his players.

La Volpe has always been seen as a purist, with the set goal of always starting play from the back. His teams play with purpose and plenty of organization, and rigidly stuck in his nucleus of ideas is his 5-3-2 formation. La Volpe has not resisted the temptation to switch things around, but the premise has always been the same, to play from the back.

Beyond the clear purpose with which they play, Club America's wingers could become a feature of the game, especially down the right where Ecuador's Renato Ibarra has looked impressive.

MB: Who will be the key player(s) that will be of most concern to Jeonbuk?

RD: One of the manager's main methods in recent games has been to create the conditions where every player knows their role. In that respect, Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee won't find too many surprises from what he sees on tape. That, however, doesn't mean Club America don't have any players that stand out. Carlos Darwin Quintero has emerged as a key figure in between lines, and with time and space on the ball, the aforementioned Renato Ibarra is a superb option to have on the wing.
Finally, America's most exciting player might be on the bench. Michael Arroyo, an exuberant left winger, has built a reputation on scoring big goals. Look for him to make an appearance in the second half, along with his trademark stepovers.

MB: Are there any weak areas of the team that Jeonbuk may look to exploit?

RD: When dealing with Mexican teams in international competitions, we always have to talk about the mental aspect. Las Aguilas will, no doubt, be seen as overwhelming favorites for this match back in Mexico, which means if Jeonbuk Motors can get on the scoresheet first, what you will hear is a collective "here we go again".

That in mind, it also largely depends on the style of play of the opponent. To put it simply, Club America's defenders don't do very well in high intensity situations. They are more tailor made to batten down the hatches. When they are forced to get out of their comfort zone, they are a red card or penalty waiting to happen.

MB: Predictions?

RD: From a Club America point of view, there is an air of mystery to Jeonbuk. The challenge is how Club America respond to a team they know very little about. Because while we have seen them beat Chivas and Necaxa recently, these were two teams with very obvious styles of play.

At first glance, Jeonbuk seemed to have struggled down the stretch against top-four opposition (FC Seoul, Jeju United, and Ulsan Hyundai). If the game turns into a low-scoring affair, there is little reason to think Club America can't edge this one. 2-1 Aguilas

Rafael's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-2 Club América

Rafael asks, Matthew answers

Rafael Diaz: With all the talk about Club America's heavy schedule heading into this match, it's been quite the opposite for Jeonbuk. With just three official games under their belt in the last month or so, how will this affect the team?

Matthew Binns: In Jeonbuk's case the break is most certainly welcomed. After 55 competitive matches this year, especially with a large amount being between weekend fixtures, a lot of players have given it their all and then some. This is most evident looking at the club's sick bay. While they avoided major injuries to most of their key personnel throughout the season, the AFC Champions League final was the game that eventually took its toll on the squad. Main goal threat and provider Lopes was hauled off three minutes into the 2nd leg of the final and will now be out for up to 6 months with a knee injury. In addition to this Kwoun Sun-tae, Jeonbuk's captain and goalkeeper, has picked up a hairline fracture on his shin for his troubles meaning he will be unable to repeat his final heroics again in Japan. There were also injuries to three of the back four that started in the final, with Kim Hyung-il, Kim Chang-soo and Cho Seung-hwan all suffering ailments. Cho has subsequently been ruled out of this tournament, but the former two have been included in the traveling squad. Whether they will be fully fit for Sunday's match is another matter though.

RD: Unsurprisingly, Club America had personnel present in the AFC Champions League Final, and two players stood out, Leonardo and Lee Dong-gook. What makes this particular pair so dangerous for Jeonbuk?

MB: Leonardo has had an especially good year, building on previous strong seasons to help haul his team over the finish line in continental competition. While he is certainly not slow, he is not the quickest in the side but has the control and skill to take on players and make up for it. Where he really shines though is in his delivery of the final ball and the shots from the edge of the area, which have compiled the majority of his highlight packages this year. Given space and time in that preferred position on the pitch, he has a knack of finding the target with the results often being too sudden for keepers to handle.

Lee Dong-gook was yet again Jeonbuk's top scoring striker despite now being 37 years old. While this year finally saw his age catch up with him in terms of speed and fitness, he still has the sharpness and awareness to pounce on opportunities when presented to him. A lot of pressure has been taken off him this season also with wingers Lopes and Leonardo taking on the bulk of the goal scoring mantle, but Lee Dong-gook is still better than the strikers that have been brought in to try and replace him. He could potentially be eyeing this competition up as one of his final tournaments and therefore could be set to put in a memorable display.

RD: This is not the first time both America and Jeonbuk meet at a Club World Cup. In 2006, Las Aguilas came away with a 1-0 victory. What do you think Jeonbuk will have to do differently to get the win this time around?

MB: A lot has changed in Jeonju since 2006, even if the manager has not. Despite my personal dislike for his tactics, there's little doubt Choi Kang-hee's ushered in an era of success for the club which has seen them go on to lift four league titles as well as this year's Champions League in the decade since the last time these clubs met. They went unbeaten until the 34th round of the league this year, and would have won it (and at a canter) if their scout had not been found guilty of bribery three years prior. I still do not believe they are quite the attacking threat the local media makes them out to be, but they do now tend to have a fighting spirit and the mentality of champions, something they lacked in 2006. They will enter this tournament knowing that they have merited their inclusion, and that combined with their experience of recent years could make a sizeable difference.

RD: Mexican clubs have a history of under-performing in these type of competitions, and the city of Jeonju, of which Jeonbuk belong, brings back bad memories (Mexico lost to rivals USA there in the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup). In that sense, do you think we will see a Jeonbuk that plays towards America's pressures or one that will surge forward in search of the win?

MB: Jeonbuk tend to employ a zonal marking system with the occasional man-marking exception for players of considerable concern (somewhere in the UAE, Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman is still being stalked by Jeonbuk's Choi Chul-soon). They do tend close down players quickly though in a bid to force mistakes. Once they have the ball in their possession, Jeonbuk will usually surge forward at pace. Their midfield has almost become renowned in East Asia for it's ability to break away and score, further punishing their opponents as they are then forced to come forward to find an equaliser. This is especially evident on home turf where, during an attack, the wing backs are given more freedom to push into midfield and take up the space vacated by the forward-running wingers. With the defensive midfielder holding back, the Asian champions tend to create a 3-4-3 when moving forward with the ball. Given the lack of Lopes or first choice defenders for this game though, I expect Choi Kang-hee to keep his team more rigid in the usual 4-1-4-1, but still with an aim to soak up the pressure and await their opportunity to attack.

RD: Predictions?

MB: I would favour Jeonbuk if Lopes and Kwoun Sun-tae were in the team, such is their influence in the squad. Their loss is damaging and will affect how cautiously they approach this game. That said, there are still enough key players here to galvanise the troops if a fight back were required. I do expect both teams to find the back of the net, but both maybe too cautious to go for the win without shirking their defensive responsibilities. I will therefore opt for a score draw and penalties, something Jeonbuk is yet to experience this year. Once it reaches that stage it can be anyone's game, but I will say the Korean side as I would love for them to face Real Madrid in the next round.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-1 Club América (Jeonbuk to win on penalties)

We'd like to extend our thanks to Rafael Diaz on joining us for this particular preview. Rafael is the founder and site editor over a FMF State of Mind, a site dedicated to covering Liga MX through preview, reviews, discussion and analysis. For more information on Mexican soccer, make sure to visit their site or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Have Your Say

Do you agree/disagree with our writer's points? Is there anything you felt was overlooked? Then please make sure to leave your comments below or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook. You can even vote in our online Twitter prediction poll below to see how others expect the match to turn out.

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