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ACL Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs Melbourne Victory

Ulsan Hyundai concluded the group stage with their fifth consecutive victory following the re-start of the tournament, a convincing 4-1 thrashing of Shanghai Shenhua, who were knocked out of the competition by virtue of the loss.  Their opponents Melbourne Victory bounced back from consecutive losses to Group E winners Beijing Guoan to record four points in their final two matches to secure their progress, including their 2-1 final group matchday win against FC Seoul.  KLU's Branko Belan previews the match.

Match: Ulsan Hyundai vs Melbourne Victory
Venue: Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium
Kickoff: Sunday December 6th, 2020; 23:00 KST 

Last Time Out

Shanghai Shenhua 1-4 Ulsan Hyundai

The Group F leaders came flying out of the gate and were a goal up just minutes into the match.  Park Jeong-in scored his first-ever ACL goal with a beautiful strike from outside the box, which Shenhua goalkeeper Li Shuai had no chance of getting to.  The lead was doubled midway through the first half as Lee Sang-heon was played in nicely by Jung Hoon-sung.  Lee calmly deposited the ball into the net from a close distance and it looked as though the match had already reached its conclusion.  For Jung, it was already his second assist of the afternoon.  Ulsan looked the more dominant side by far and went into the break with a comfortable advantage.

Shenhua would pull a goal back on the hour mark through Bi Jinhao, who had a simple tap-in after second half substitute Giovanni Moreno worked his way around some poor defending to put his low pass into the path of the Chinese striker.

The Horangi were not done yet, however, and were back among the goals on 75 minutes, when  Bjørn Johnsen restored the two goal advantage with a penalty conversion.  The Norwegian would get his second of the match at the end of regulation, beating the offside trap and breaking free of the defense, eventually firing home with a low shot at the near post.

Highlights



Melbourne Victory 2-1 FC Seoul

Melbourne Victory won their first-ever match on foreign soil in the ACL with a 2-1 success over FC Seoul on the final matchday in Group E.  An early goal from Marco Rojas and a converted penalty from Jake Brimmer were enough to send them through.  All FC Seoul needed to move forward to the knockouts heading into the match was a draw, but they came up short with what many would contend was a performance that left much to be desired.

The Australian side got out of the blocks quickly, taking the lead within the first five minutes of the match.  A turnover in midfield concealed by Leigh Broxham led to a counter which saw a pinpoint pass from Callum McManaman played through to Rojas, who took advantage of a retreating Yun Young-sun and created enough space for a shooting opportunity, sending a low shot past Yang Han-bin in the FC Seoul goal.  

Lee Won-jun's men would then press forward looking to restore parity, but they could not find a way past a stout Victory back line.  Grant Brebner's men also employed an effective high press up the pitch, making it difficult for Seoul to build out of the back.  Before long, Melbourne were two in front when Hwang Hyun-soo was whistled for a foul in the area on McManaman.  Jake Brimmer converted from the spot and that is how the teams went to the break.

FC Seoul picked up the reigns in the second half and started to enjoy a chunk of possession, which finally paid off as penalty culprit Hwang headed home from Han Seung-gyu's free kick on 63 minutes.  It would be all they could muster, however, as a late opportunity for an equalizer and progress went astray, with Osmar heading well wide from a corner late in injury time.  With the win, Melbourne progresses to the knockout phase for the first time since 2016, while FC Seoul fails to pass the group stage for only the second time, the only previous occasion being in 2017.

Highlights



Previous Meetings

The two sides faced off against one another two years ago in the group stage.  The first match in Melbourne was an entertaining affair with the teams sharing six goals between them in a 3-3 draw.  Leroy George scored a pair of goals and Rhys Williams added one of his own for the Victory, while Mislav Oršić also scored twice and Richard Windbichler added another for the Horangi.

The second encounter was a bit of a walkover, with Ulsan winning by a considerable margin.  They sprung out to a 5-0 lead before their opponents pulled a pair back in quick succession, but they would add a sixth before the match was up.  Both Júnior Negrão and Oršić scored twice, while Lim Jong-eun and Kim Seung-jun added the others.  Kenny Athiu and Kosta Barbarouses replied for Melbourne, but it was nowhere near enough in what ended in a rout.


Team News

Ulsan Hyundai

Yoon Bit-garam has been a man on a mission for Ulsan Hyundai this ACL campaign.
With progress to the knockout stage already assured, several starters were rested for the match against Shanghai Shenhua.  Of note, Seo Ju-hwan made his professional debut in the club's final group stage match and played well, but could have benefitted from better defending on the conceded goal.  Park Jeong-in's goal to open the scoring was his debut goal in all competitions.  

The match also saw the return of several players, including Won Du-jae, Kim Tae-hwan, and Jung Seung-hyun, all of whom were unavailable for selection following the national team expedition to Austria during the international break where they were all confirmed positive for COVID-19.  All three have now been cleared for action and will be essential for Ulsan moving forward.  The match also saw the return of Hong Chul, who had missed a spell of time on the sidelines because of a knee injury.  He came on in the second half as a substitute, and his fitness will be monitored in the meantime to determine how match-ready he will be for Sunday night.

Melbourne Victory

Marco Rojas (23) will be a key figure for the Victory against the Horangi.  Photo courtesy of AFC
The last time Melbourne Victory were in the Round of 16, they were ousted by eventual champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.  The first leg finished 1-1 with Besart Berisha putting them ahead after just five minutes, but Leonardo would level proceedings less than ten minutes later.  The Brazilian would score a brace in the second leg, while Berisha scored what turned out to be a late consolation goal as the Korean champions went through 3-2 on aggregate.

Victory coach Brebner, who was appointed in August, was very pleased with the result.

"It's a fantastic achievement to get out of the group stages ... it was a tough ask, I am super proud of the players, super proud of the staff," he began.

"It's massive for the club, for everybody connected with the club.  It's something we have always wanted to do, strive to achieve something in Asia.  We have been together 10 days, played four games in 10 days, and every game we have come up looking better.  They [the players] are able, willing, they want to learn and get better," he finished.

Rojas, who scored the opening goal also commented on the outcome.

"We had to fight really hard," he said.

"It was a really difficult game but because of our fantastic start we had the two-goal advantage and we were able to hold on.”

One particular concern for Victory will be the status of Leigh Broxham, who had to be substituted near the end of the first half due to an apparent injury.  He was replaced by Jay Barnett, who may get the start if Broxham is not fully fit by matchday.

The return of Adama Traore from suspension for the final group stage match against FC Seoul proved to be vital as he nullified a lot of the Korean side's ventures into the attacking third and was a presence building from the back.  He is a player Ulsan will have to keep an eye on when mapping out their attacking strategy for the upcoming match.

Max Crocombe started the match against FC Seoul, but in all likelihood, incumbent Matt Acton will get the start against Ulsan.  Both goalkeepers have been given equal time between the sticks in the run-up to the new A-League season as Brebner looks to cement his number one for the foreseeable future.

Robbie Kruse missed the match against FC Seoul with a knee injury and may have to miss out again.  Rudy Gestede also was not in contention last matchday and could be a doubt again.

Prediction

Ulsan will be fielding a side with all regular starters back, and that should put them at an advantage.  They also have a seven match unbeaten streak against A-League teams on the line on Sunday night and will look to keep that intact.  Melbourne did well to bounce back after successive defeats to stronger competition, and that should give them a dose of confidence, but it remains to be seen how they will perform against one of the potential contenders for the title this year.  

Ulsan's attack has been on fire lately and the expectation is that they will have a few more goals in them next time out.  The fact that some of the younger players had a chance to play in the final group stage match and did very well only shows the amount of depth currently in the side, and that should bode well come kickoff.

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