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ACL Preview: Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Daegu FC

ACL Preview: Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Daegu FC Group F
Group F leaders Daegu FC will make the trip to Hiroshima in search for their third straight win in Asian Champions League, while 2018 J League runners up Sanfrecce Hiroshima are looking to keep their momentum alive after a 2-0 loss to Guangzhou Evergrande. Can Daegu FC return home from Japan with all three points? K League United Daegu FC Correspondent Muyeol Jung previews this clash with help from The Japan Times Sports Writer Dan Orlowitz.

Last Time Out

K League: Daegu FC 1-1 Seongnam FC

For the first time in six years Daegu FC and Seongnam FC went head to head, but the match finished as a 1-1 draw in front of a sell-out crowd in DGB Daegu Bank Park. Seongnam tried to prevent Daegu from playing out wide by pressuring high and by committing fouls in and around the halfway line. The hosts, then, were not able to find a way to create chances, and looked uncomfortable.

It was the visitors who found the net first through former Daegu player Eder’s shot in the box after Jung Seungwon lost the ball near the edge of the area. A reorganised Daegu started off the second half with two early substitutes Dario and Park Hanbin entering the fray. On 63 minutes, Kim Jinhyuk levelled the game with a smart header before Seongnam goalkeeper could gather the ball. Afterwards, the two teams continued to play for three points, but had to settle for just one.

Highlights: here

J.League: Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-0 Gamba Osaka

Sanfrecce Hiroshima, on a four-game unbeaten run, hosted Gamba Osaka at home to extend the run of form to to five unbeaten after beating the visitors to Big Arch 3-0 on Saturday. Sanfrecce took an early lead inside two minutes through Y. Kashiwa’s fine effort in the box whose shot went into the bottom corner.

Just five minutes later K.Shibasaki made it 2-0 with a mid-range shot. Afterwards, the visitors tried to chase, but they ensured an unlucky afternoon with a couple of chances denied by the woodwork or fine saves. In the end, it finished 3-0 after H.Kawabe added the third of the afternoon assisted by Douglas Vieira near the box nearly the full time.

Highlights: here

Previous Meetings

Both teams have never met in any official competition yet but interestingly, they have played each other thee times in club friendlies with two wins for the Japanese side and one win for the Sky Blues.

The latest meeting was in June 2018 in Daegu Stadium where the hosts beat the Japanese side 3-2 during the World Cup break. By then, Hiroshima was leading the table in J.League, while Daegu were sitting at the bottom of K League 1 however, surprisingly the Korean side pulled off upset at home to a strong Sanfrecca team. This win at home served as huge motivation for Daegu FC who eventually bounced back in the second half of 2018 K League seaosn.

10/06/2015 Daegu FC 0-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
01/06/2016 Daegu FC 1-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
29/06/2018 Daegu FC 3-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Highlights: here)

Team News

A day after the Seongnam game, Daegu FC hit the road and arrived in Hiroshima on Sunday evening via Fukuoka. They failed to earn three points at home, but it is inspiring that they managed to keep scoring in every single game. So, the atmosphere in dressing room is not bad ahead of their third ACL appearance.

Coming into the fixture, Daegu FC will line up in their usual 3-4-1-2 formation with an emphasis on counterattacking. Even though there was a sign of fatigue seen in the previous game, gaffer Andre Gaspar will likely set out the strongest side without many changes to starting XI.

In a post-match interview after Seongnam game, Andre revealed that “the players looked tired physically and mentally, but [we were able to] stimulate them through a pep talk and early substitutions”. He also remains stubborn by adding “I don’t think my players are that fatigued by this stage as it’s been only three games since the international break”. And he also implied that he isn’t considering rotation of the squad yet,

Brazilian centre forward Edgar could be the only change to the starting XI. Regards to the availability of Edgar this Wednesday, the gaffer avoided an instant, lucid answer, saying “Edgar is now back to training with the ball, and he would travel to Hiroshima with the team, however, we will assess him on matchday”. If he remains unavailable, Kim Jinhyuk, who bagged himself three K League goals from the recent two games, will likely start with Kim Daewon and Cesinha upfront.

Daegu will go for three points in Hiroshima as win there will almost secure them a place in the knock out stages. Fatigue could be an issue for Daegu, but it’s quite unlikely given the Sky Blues are already in the venue for better assimilation and recovery for full three days till the match day.

The Adversary

Sanfrecce's late-season collapse to miss out on the 2018 J1 title may go down as one of the biggest chokes in J.League history, but just like last year they've gotten off to a strong start and sit atop the J1 table with an unbeaten record, having earned five straight clean sheets in the league. While newcomer Douglas Viera has added flair to the attack, goals can still come from anywhere - five players have scored the team's seven J1 goals, including three players who engraved their name on the scoresheet last weekend against Gamba Osaka.

However, that form hasn't quite translated in the ACL as Hiroshi Jofuku has opted to mostly use his reserves in the first two games. The loss at Guangzhou was more or less expected, but the win against Melbourne hopefully reminded the team that it is possible to win in Asia. With a key fixture against Vissel Kobe on the horizon next weekend, expect Jofuku to continue to bring out the B-listers, much to the chagrin of those of us who wish J.League sides would take the ACL more seriously from the get-go.

That said, the crowd at Big Arch won't be nearly as lively as it was for Keisuke Honda's much-ballyhooed homecoming.
-Dan Orlowitz.

Who To Watch

Tsubasa Nishi


Japanese midfielder Tsubasa Nishi has been a key man for Andre’s side in the 2019 season and he is about to line up against a Japanese side for the first time since he left for Poland in the summer of 2013 after graduation.

He is not a widely well-known player, perhaps because he has been mainly overshadowed by other overseas players such as Cesinha and Edgar, but the presence of him gives Daegu much more tactical diversity. The box to box midfielder is usually centrally positioned below Cesinha, delivering accurate, sharp passes forwards as well as forming the first front line in front of the back three. In addition, he lets Cesinha have more freedom upfront, adjusting his job in game management. His strengths include good distribution, visions, and passing accuracy.

Prediction

The Japanese side has been on five-game unbeaten run recently and Daegu seem to have difficulty in playing against a back three as they did against Seongnam at the weekend. However, Japanese teams are usually condemned for not taking the continental competition that seriously. Therefore, it’s going to be a close game.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-1 Daegu FC

2019 AFC Champions League Guide: here

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