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ACL Quarter-final Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Beijing Guoan

Ulsan Hyundai look to make it a magnificent seven wins in a row when they take on Chinese giants Beijing Guoan in the quarter-final of the AFC Champions League this Thursday. The Horangi have a 100% record since landing in Qatar, but this will be their toughest test yet as Beijing are also unbeaten in this year's competition. Dan Croydon previews this high stakes clash.

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 3-0 Melbourne Victory
Kim Do-hoon selected a full strength eleven for the first round of the knockouts, making eleven changes to the side that beat Shanghai Shenhua just three days earlier.

The extra days of rest for key players like Yoon Bit-garam, Dave Bulthuis and Junior Negrao made all the difference, as, not for the first time in this tournament, Ulsan turned it on in the second half to overcome a stubborn Australian side.

It was the substitutes that got the goals; Bjorn Johnsen came on to score his second brace in a week, while Won Du-jae was all action when he replaced Lee Chung-yong, netting his first goal in Ulsan colours within five minutes of his introduction.

Melbourne did not look out of place in the East's final eight, as they showed good organisation and fighting spirit. Indeed, they could have opened the scoring on the hour, but Jo Su-huk was equal to Brandon Lauton's effort. As time wore on though, Melbourne couldn't match the tempo set by Kim Do-hoon's men and Ulsan ran out deserved winners.


Beijing Guoan 1-0 FC Tokyo
The Chinese club edged out the J-League runners-up in the battle of the Asian capitals last Sunday. In a very even contest neither side were able to make any clear cut chances in the first half.

But the deadlock was finally broken on 59 minutes with a moment of quality from Renato Augusto and  A Lan. The Brazilian international winger jinked his way to the byline before cutting it back to the former Red Bull Salzburg striker to sweep home.

FC Tokyo pushed for an equaliser but, like so many teams in this year's competition, couldn't find a way through a Beijing defense that has conceded only four goals in their seven ACL matches.

Previous Meetings

Ulsan and Beijing have met on four previous occasions, with Ulsan winning all four. In the most recent match, Ulsan were 2-3 victors at the Worker's Stadium with current player Lee Keun-ho starting upfront. If Ulsan fans are looking for good omens, their side beat both Beijing Guoan and FC Tokyo on their way to their only AFC Champions League title in 2012.  

Bonus fact: Beijing Guoan were actually called Beijing Hyundai in the early 2000s as part of a deal with the Chinese arm of the Korean automobile company.

Lee Keun-ho started the last time these two sides played in 2012

FNR

Team News

Ulsan Hyundai
Much of Ulsan's success so far in this tournament is down to the contributions of squad players and the impact of Kim Do-hoon's substitutions.

You need look no further than joint top goalscorer Bjorn Johnsen, whose four goals in Ulsan's last two games all came when he was introduced off the bench. Add to that the improved performances of Koh Myong-jin, Jeong Dong-ho and Kim Ki-hee and it is easy to see why Ulsan have been able to wear their opposition out and score so many late goals.

Kim Do-hoon has used his squad to great effect in Qatar 
With five subs available and the potential for extra-time, it is almost irrelevant who starts for the Horangi; everyone will get a chance at some point. 

There are a few injury concerns ahead of the quarter-final though. Shin Jin-ho took a knock to his left knee late on against Melbourne and had to be stretchered off. The Horangi captain did return to the field, but given his history of knee injuries he may not feature heavily this Thursday. Expect Won Du-jae to step into a bigger role.

Elsewhere, winger Jung Hoon-sung left the squad this week after he broke a bone in his left ankle in the final group match against Shanghai Shenhua. 

Beijing Guoan
Beijing have reached their first ever ACL quarter-final, ending a run that saw them bow out in the first knockout stage in 2010, 2013 and 2015. On all three of those occasions they lost to K League sides. 

Like Kim Do-hoon at Ulsan, Beijing manager Bruno Génésio has been quick to praise his squad as a whole for their seven match unbeaten run, but there are some standout players Ulsan will be looking to keep quiet.

Rio 2016 Olympic Gold medalist Renato Augusto is the creative heart of the midfield, drifting anywhere and everywhere to find the space to pick a killer pass, while another Brazilian international, Fernando, is an excellent anchor in the middle of the park.

The naturalised Chinese striker A Lan, aka Alan Carvalho, is their main attacking threat, ably aided by the young forward Zhang Yuning, who had spells with ADO Den Haag and West Brom in Europe.


Finally, K League fans will be very familiar with the rock at the centre of Beijing's miserly defence. Kim Min-jae needs little introduction, although he is most famous in recent years for the near-constant talk of a move away from the Chinese capital. If he smothers Ulsan's attack this Thursday, Horangi fans will be left wishing one of those many transfer rumours had come true.

K League United Livestream ACL Quarterfinal Predictions: 


Prediction

This will certainly be Ulsan's hardest game in the competition so far. Like Ulsan, Beijing are unbeaten and are looking both solid in defence and dangerous in attack.

But also like Ulsan, Beijing had a relatively easy path out of the group stages. They finished top and were able to rest key players ahead of their Round of 16 game. Therefore, you can't say that either team is really battle-hardened.

This game may well come down to who has enough left in the tank in the final half an hour, and maybe even beyond. Out of the two teams, I think this scenario favours Ulsan. If the Horangi can control the game and keep Beijing's star men quiet until half time, they should be able to find the decisive goals in the second half.

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 2-0  Beijing Guoan

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