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ACL Preview: Ulsan Hyundai safely through but could halt progress of Choi Kang-hee's Shanghai Shenhua

Ulsan Hyundai take on Shanghai Shenhua this Thursday in the final match of AFC Champions League Group F. The game is a dead rubber for the Horangi as they have already grabbed an unassailable lead at the top of the group, but with the Chinese side tied for points with FC Tokyo in second, the result will decide who joins the Horangi in the knockout stages. Ulsan columnist Dan Croydon looks ahead to this decisive encounter. 
 

Last Time Out

FC Tokyo 1-2 Ulsan Hyundai
The Horangi came from behind to make it four wins from four since the restart, sealing top spot in Group F in the process.

With barely a minute on the clock, Kim Do-hoon's side fell behind to a precise strike from Kensuke Nagai. But Ulsan grew into the game and were level just before the half thanks to a wonderful dipping free kick from Yoon Bit-garam.

It was end-to-end after the break as both teams chased a winner, and it was that man again, Yoon Bit-garam, who found it late on. The 30-year-old midfielder was given too much space nine yards out and he duly beat Go Hatano at his near post with the aid of a deflection.

It was Yoon's fourth goal of the competition so far, putting him joint second in the top scorers chart behind Abderazak Hamdallah of Al-Nassr on seven.

Shanghai Shenhua 3-3 Perth Glory
Shanghai gained a point on Monday to draw level with FC Tokyo in the race for second place, but they were disappointed not to get the win after giving away a late penalty.

Perth, who already knew they could not progress from the group, took a surprise two goal lead, both goals coming from direct free kicks. But Shanghai fought back with three goals in eleven second-half minutes, two from their returning Colombian star, Giovanni Moreno. 

However, Shanghai's disciplinary problems continued to hamper them late on. First, Stephane Mbia gave away a spot kick four minutes from time which Neil Kilkenney dispatched to make it 3-3, then substitute Cao Yunding was given a straight red card after the final whistle for unsporting conduct. It was the midfielders second red card in three appearances.   


Previous Meetings

Ulsan were relatively comfortable 3-1 winners when the two sides met less than two weeks ago. A first half brace from Yoon Bit-garam put the Horangi in command before defender Kim Kee-hee added a third just after the hour mark. Shenhua were missing several of their star men, but were able to find a consolation goal late on through substitute Zhu Jianrong.


Team News

Ulsan Hyundai
After overcoming a gruelling schedule that saw his side play four games in nine days, Kim Do-hoon is likely to take this opportunity to rest some key players before their knockout game with the Group E runners-up this Sunday night. 

That means the in-form Yoon Bit-garam, who started all four matches, will likely drop to the bench, along with attackers Junior Negrao and Kim In-sung.

It should be a youthful-looking side then, with 20-year-old Park Jeong-in and 22-year-old Lee Sang-heon spearheading the attack, while central defender Kim Min-duk is set to make only his third appearance in all competitions this year. 

Kim Min-duk (5) made a rare start in Ulsan's second victory over Perth Glory


Shanghai Shenhua
It has been an even tougher run of fixtures for Shanghai Shenhua; they will have played all six group games in a span of barely two weeks. 

However, their Korean manager Choi Kang-hee cannot relax for a moment, as his side need to take three points to stand any chance of going through to the final 16 -- but even then it might not be enough if FC Tokyo win against Perth.

With victory a must, Choi may be forced to play his foreign stars, Gio Moreno and former Ulsan striker Kim Shin-wook, from the off -- both men have been slowly returning from injury and, particularly in the case of Kim, have been used only sparingly so far in Qatar.

Elsewhere, top scorer Yu Hanchao will likely return to the starting line-up after he came off the bench to score his side's third in Monday night's 3-3 draw with Perth, while Cao Yunding misses out through suspension.    
Shanghai manager Choi Kang-hee has a reputation for grinding out results 

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Prediction

This is the second time in two years that Ulsan have qualified top of their group with a game to go. Last year they sent a second string squad to face the other Shanghai team, SIPG, in a dead rubber and were thrashed 5-0.

Whilst it is unlikely the scoreline will be quite that lopsided this time, Kim Do-hoon will not be putting too much pressure on his side to get a result.

That being said, the likes of Lee Keun-ho, Jason Davidson and Jung Hoon-sung will want to take the opportunity to impress going into the latter stages of the competition, while there does appear to be an excellent camaraderie amongst the Horangi squad,  so don't expect Ulsan to roll over.

Meanwhile, K League fans know all too well about Choi Kang-hee's knack for finding a result when he needs one. This year's double-winning Jeonbuk side still bear the hallmarks of never-say-die ethos. Add to that the fact that Kim Shin-wook, who won the 2012 ACL with Ulsan before making his controversial switch to Choi's Jeonbuk, is likely to feature, and Shanghai look a good bet for a narrow win. 

Whether that will be enough to see them through to face their countrymen Beijing FC in the knockouts is out of their hands.

Prediction: Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Ulsan Hyundai

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