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ACL Writer's Chat: Jeju United vs Urawa Reds

Jeju United host Urawa Reds this Wednesday in the ACL knockout round of 16 as they look to keep their status as the only Korean team still in the tournament. However, it is unfamiliar terrain for a team that is making its debut at this stage of the tournament.  K League United's Duncan Elder spoke to Ryan Steele to try to get some insight into what Jeju will be up against.

Duncan asks, Ryan answers:

Duncan: Urawa qualified after finishing top of their group. Was this result expected?

Ryan: Early expectations from most were that Urawa would be fighting for second place with FC Seoul, given that Shanghai SIPG was favoured to finish first in the group. After the first match against Western Sydney Wanderers, however, there was a sense that this season's approach to the AFC Champions League was different and that Mihailo Petrovic was looking for a strong and competitive finish.

DE: After three losses in four(albeit the one win was 6:1), Urawa seem to be having a slight drop in form. Is there a particular reason for the three losses in a row?

RS: Urawa are very much driven by their mentality and consistency in form and have found it hard to bounce back quickly from drops like they just experienced. The derby loss to Omiya Ardija a few weeks ago came out of left field, especially given Omiya's run in the league, and it slowed the team down considerably. It's been tough for the team to properly bounce back from that and a 6-1 win doesn't provide enough of a sign of a return from the slump to mean much, while the weekend's 3-3 draw after leading 2-0 is a better sign that there are still some wounds being licked.

DE: Both Jeju and Urawa are the top scorers in their respective leagues. Do you think Urawa will be more defensive in this game to stop Jeju's attacking threat or will they simply try to outscore them?

RS: Urawa are a very attacking team this year and still have similar defensive flaws as they have in previous years. Their approach for the season seems to be to outscore opponents whenever possible, but having the luxury of a home game for the second leg means a more conservative start might be the preference. One thing to note is Urawa will be without their newest attacking talisman, Rafael Silva, for the first leg after a minor hamstring injury. That hampers their options for this match, but that might be a benefit given Urawa's record against Koreans.

DE: How do Urawa generally do against Korean teams in the ACL?

RS: Urawa tends to fare much better at home than away in general, but Korean clubs have been a bit of a bogey opponent. In the last two years of the competition, Urawa is undefeated at home against K-League opposition, but the have not won an ACL match in Korea since the 2007 quarter-final against Jeonbuk, the same year they went on to win the tournament.

DE: What is your prediction for the game?

RS: Given all that's been discussed, I wouldn't be too surprised if Urawa were happy to settle for a 1-1 draw, allowing them the chance to see Jeju's style of play and aiming to make use of that knowledge in the second leg.

Ryan asks, Duncan answers:

Ryan Steele: Jeju left it until the last round to secure a knockout round spot, but were convincing in their wins against their Japanese opponents Gamba Osaka on both occasions. Would you consider that a sign of Korea's capacity against Japanese teams or just an isolated situation?

Duncan Elder: Certainly not a sign of Korea's capacity against Japanese teams as this year K League teams have been thoroughly outperformed by teams from the J League. However, Gamba are currently top of the J League so I'm sure Jeju will take heart from the fact that they were able to beat the league leaders so convincingly.

RS: Lee Chang-min has scored a couple of superb goals already in the tournament, but a lot of the league scoring has been handled by Marcelo Toscano and Frederic Mendy. Do you think the players have performed differently between the K-League and ACL?

DE: Jeju's goals have been fairly well spread through a number of players this season. Marcelo, Mendy, Lee Chang-min, and also Magno all offer very contrasting ways of playing. This means that the manager is able to choose the attackers that he thinks will be most effective in different situations.

RS: Jeju isn't known for their big crowds, but this is the first time in two attempts that the team has made it out of the ACL group stage. Is there an excitement in the air that they might be able to go further?

DE: Jeju are having a great season and I think they will be happy with their chances of making it to the next round. However, the game this week is being held at 3 pm on a Wednesday (I guess because some U20 world cup games are being held at the stadium over the next week.) Because of this, I would expect the attendance to be even lower than normal.

RS: How has the general reaction in the country been to Jeju United being the only K-League side qualifying for the next round? And for them, does it give them a sense of pride or added pressure in creating a certain benchmark?

DE: Considering the fact that K League teams did quite well last year, it is certainly a surprise that only Jeju, the least experienced of the Korean teams, made it through to the knockout stages. Jeonbuk being banned certainly didn't help as they are still the league's best team but Seoul especially would have expected to do better.

I don't think Jeju will be feeling that much pressure as they aren't really expected to go that far anyway. This is actually the first time the team has entered the knockout rounds and only the second time they have ever been in the tournament.

RS: Let's not forget that score prediction!

DE: Jeju don't usually struggle for goals and they are in a good run of form. Let's say 3:1 to Jeju.

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