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ACL Preview: Daegu FC vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima

ACL Preview: Daegu FC vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima Group F
After Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s 2-0 win over Daegu FC in matchday three, the situation in Group F is wide open for the top three teams who are all level on points. Second placed Daegu FC will host Sanfrecce Hiroshima this Tuesday night for match day four of  the group stage in search of revenge. K League United Daegu FC Correspondent Muyeol Jung spoke to The Japan Times Sports writer Dan Orlowitz about what can be expected from what is a pivotal match.

Muyeol Jung Asks, Dan Orlowitz Answers

Muyeol Jung: Sanfrecce's seven game-winning run was halted after a 1-0 home loss to FC Tokyo. Did they set out a rotated squad ahead of the ACL game? What do you think the reasons are behind the loss?

Dan Orlowitz: They had a strong squad out - no rotation there. It was a defensive grind of a game, not really attractive football, with each team only getting off three shots. Tokyo were in second (and are now in first) and have a very, very, very good squad this year, with newcomers Jael and Na Sang-ho in particular contributing off the bench, so the result is in a way not a huge surprise. As was the case last year, these two teams are going to be in the title race for a long time to come.

MJ: In spite of the defeat in the league, the Sanfrecce are likely to come to Daegu with a lot of confidence after their perfect 2-0 win over Daegu FC in Matchday 3. What’s the atmosphere among the squad ahead of Matchday 4?

DO: After Friday's loss, Sanfrecce will have something to prove and they'll be eager to do it against a team they've already beaten before.

MJ: In the first group stage match against Chinese Super League Champions Guangzhou Evergrande, the Japanese side were condemned for not taking the competition seriously by fielding a young, experimental side. However, it looks like the Sanfrecce started taking the competition more seriously thereafter. Was it only a tactical decision, or were there any other reasons for such a change?

DO: For Japanese clubs, away games in China have a reputation for being... challenging, if we're being polite. Venue issues, health risks, fans have to go through hell if they want to travel, and things get a little rough on the pitch. Hindsight is 20-20 but it wouldn't be surprising if head coach Hiroshi Jofuku simply wanted to get that Evergrande game out of the way and focus on the remaining six games, and if that's the case it's not necessarily the worst strategy. Better to keep getting results against the weaker teams in the group and prepare to face Evergrande at home with a squad that's in form.

MJ: With Yusuke Minagawa suspended after he picked up a second yellow card, are there any more players unavailable for selection? How do you think Sanfrecce will line up in what could be the decider for the second place compared to the latest clash with Daegu?

DO: I think beyond Minagawa there's Daiki Watari, Douglas Vieira, and Patric, and between those three there should be no issue filling out the top of the squad, which I do expect will look similar to the home leg.

MJ: How do you envisage to play it out on Tuesday night?

DO: Going to give the home side the benefit of the doubt here, but goal or not I see Sanfrecce getting a comfortable win.

MJ: Score Prediction?

DO: Daegu FC 1-3 Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Dan Orlowitz Asks, Muyeol Jung Answers

Dan Orlowitz: Daegu are newcomers to the ACL - what's it been like for the club, fans and Korean football community for them to be able to participate in continental competition?

Muyeol Jung: It’s been a fairy tale like which fans in Korea would have never imagined before. Daegu FC had never been mainstream in Korean football at all until they lifted the FA Cup last year, and their participation in continental competition following winning the Korea FA Cup in 2018 itself is something that takes the club to the next level. Everyone connected with the club is really enjoying where they're at.

DO: The matchday two win against Guangzhou Evergrande is arguably a historic achievement - how much confidence did that give the team in terms of making them think they have a chance to make the knockout round?

MJ: As you said, the win over seven-time Chinese Super League Champions at home will remain such a tremendous achievement in the club’s history. Not many people would have had expected to see such a spectacular scene, but a good start to the campaign with two 3-1 wins acted as huge motivation as well giving the team confidence moving forward, letting Daegu fans and players have the mindset that they can do it.

DO: It's a somewhat rare sight to see Japanese players in K League teams; how would you describe Tsubasa Nishi's role in Daegu and the impact he brings?

MJ: Tsubasa has been a key man for Andre’s side after struggling a bit last season due to injury. The majority of pundits are heaping praise upon Brazilian duo Edgar and Cesinha, and young Korean attacker Kim Daewon, but I think the reason why those three in particular are able to go for goal upfront is because of the Japanese midfielder who does all of chores and support work behind them.

The box-to-box midfielder is very comfortable with the ball and plays a major role in build-up play and distribution by linking up with teammates and forming the front line before the back three line.

DO: After the 2-0 loss in Hiroshima, how do you expect Daegu to adapt for the home leg? Is the focus going to be neutralizing Sanfrecce's counter or breaking them down on defense before they get a chance to push the ball up?

MJ: I think that both teams are probably aware of the importance of this tie for second place race in Group F. Particularly, in a post match interview after the previous league game, Andre kindly and strongly asked for loud, massive support from the fans on Tuesday night.

For the game against the Japanese side, I don’t think Daegu are considering pressuring high up the pitch, but they are more likely to stick to their usual defensive plan with an emphasis on counterattacking, which worked very well in the previous league game against Pohang where Daegu slaughtered the visitors 3-0.

DO: Predictions for Tuesday's final score, and beyond that how do you see Daegu's campaign ending up after a promising first half of the group stage?

MJ: Despite the 2-0 loss away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Daegu’s hopes for the knock-out stages are still alive given that they are level on points with Sanfrecce and Guangzhou Evergrande. What Daegu need here is only to win, anything less than win means that the Sky Blues will be behind on points and head to head which could come into play if the two sides are level after match day six.

I believe what Daegu have shown on the pitch recently since the defeat to Hiroshima is energetic and convincing enough for me to be able to think they can avenge the defeat in Japan.

DO: Score Prediction?

MJ: Daegu FC 2-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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