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ACL Quarter-final Preview: Vissel Kobe vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Vissel Kobe vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings
Suwon Samsung Bluewings will clash with Vissel Kobe for the second time in less than a week in the Quarter-final of the AFC Champions League on Thursday. Can Suwon secure a hat-trick of wins against J.League opposition at the Al Janoub Stadium, Qatar? K League United's Shibajee Das previews the encounter.

Last Time Out

Vissel Kobe 2-0 Shanghai SIPG

Vissel Kobe battled it out with Shanghai SIPG in the Round of 16 of the AFC Champions League. Oscar had the first notable attempt when he hit a long-range free-kick which was easily gathered by Daiya Maekawa. The breakthrough arrived on the half-hour mark when Hotaru Yamaguchi's first-time pass found Andres Iniesta and the midfield maestro swivelled away from a couple of defenders before shooting through the keeper to give his team the lead.

At the start of the second half, Kobe doubled their lead. Kyogo Furuhashi delivered a dangerous cross from the left into the box and Daigo Nishi produced a karate kick to turn the ball into the back of the net. However, worryingly for Kobe, Andres Iniesta pulled up with a thigh muscle strain and had to be replaced in the 68th minute. Oscar and Aaron Mooy had a disappointing day in the office, as Shanghai SIPG lacked the cutting edge all throughout. In the end, Vissel Kobe comfortably booked their place in the quarter-finals of this season's AFC Champions League.       

Yokohama F. Marinos 2-3 Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Suwon Samsung Bluewings faced a stern test against Yokohama F. Marinos in the Round of 16. It was Yokohama who came flying off the blocks, and Teruhito Nakagawa somehow failed to turn the ball home at the far post in just the third minute. Nakagawa atoned for the error when he put in a perfect low cross for Erik to score in the 20th minute. Suwon had no answer to Yokohama's blistering pace but their finishing let them down over and over again. Marcos Junior missed an open goal before Erik had a solo run from his own half but failed to keep his shot on target.

It was a completely different story in the second half as Suwon began to carve out chances. In the 57th minute, Kim Tae-hwan unleashed an unstoppable left-footed strike to draw the Bluewings right back into the contest. At the other end, Yang Hyung-mo produced a smart stop to keep out Nakagawa's fierce drive. Kim Min-woo then played a nice one-two before slotting the ball past the keeper to give Suwon the lead. This was followed by Han Seok-jong producing one of the goals of the tournament when he caught out Obinna from the halfway line to give the Bluewings a two-goal lead in the 87th minute. Substitute Ado Onaiwo reduced the deficit in stoppage time, but Suwon held on to secure a memorable continental triumph.     

Previous Meetings

Suwon has faced Vissel Kobe twice before, as the clubs were drawn together in Group G of this season's AFC Champions League. Both teams have claimed a win apiece.

Vissel Kobe came out on top at the Suwon World Cup Stadium when they met in February, courtesy of a 90th-minute winner from Kyogo Furuhashi. They met again earlier this month, in a match which Suwon had to win by two clear goals to progress. The Bluewings did just that, with second-half goals from Kim Kun-hee and Lim Sang-hyub clinching their progression to the knockout rounds.

Team News

Vissel Kobe

Will Andres Iniesta start for Vissel Kobe?

The most worrying sight for Vissel Kobe will be to have seen their star man Andres Iniesta come off due to a thigh muscle strain in their previous match. Manager Atsuhiro Miura will also be concerned about experienced full-back Gotoku Sakai, who received a stamp on his knee in the dying minutes of the match against Shanghai SIPG. Sakai immediately hit the deck at the final whistle. It will be a double whammy for Vissel Kobe if both of them are unable to start in this match.

Influential midfielder Sergi Samper hasn't travelled with the squad to Qatar. So, a lot will depend on Thomas Vermaelen, who will be expected to rally his troops and keep things watertight at the back. Kyogo Furuhashi will also be a key player for Kobe and a lot of the attacking threat will come from him.   

Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Kim Min-woo has been leading from the front in Qatar

The Bluewings will welcome back Min Sang-gi at the heart of the defence, who missed out the previous match due to suspension. Park Dae-won will most probably make way for him. The rest of the starting lineup is expected to be unchanged as Park Kun-ha seems to have found his strongest eleven.

None of Suwon's foreign players has travelled to Qatar, however, the Bluewings don't seem to miss them at all. The team looks a good-oiled unit with Kim Min-woo leading from the front and Kim Tae-hwan stepping up to the plate.   

The Adversary

Vissel Kobe has had a disappointing domestic campaign this season. They currently sit 12th in the league table, having picked up just 36 points from 33 matches. German Thorsten Fink was relieved of his duties in late September, and Atsuhiro Miura was named as his successor. But it did little to change their domestic form, as Kobe travelled to Qatar on the back of five consecutive league defeats.

Vissel Kobe players after scoring a goal

Kobe heavily relies on a possession-based play, and they have looked a completely different proposition in their maiden voyage in the AFC Champions League. They secured top spot in their group, before going on to comfortably oust Shanghai SIPG in the Round of 16. 

Kyogo Furuhashi has been their leading scorer in the league this season, with 12 goals. Furuhashi has been a consistent performer in the continental matches as well. Miura will be hoping that Brazilian striker Douglas can support him ably in order to offer more goal-scoring threat to the opposition. Vissel Kobe is Japan's last surviving representative in the AFC Champions League and will be hoping to leave a major imprint in their debut campaign amongst Asia's elite.  

What To Watch

Will Kim Tae-hwan shine yet again?

It is fair to say that the Suwon faithful wouldn't have expected much from their side in this season's AFC Champions League. An eighth-placed finish in the league, coupled with a managerial merry-go-round all season doesn't sound good for a club of Suwon's stature.

They travelled to Qatar without any of their foreign recruits, and many thought that it is only a matter of time before they come back home early. But then, in stepped 20-year-old Kim Tae-hwan. The youngster showed promise in the league, but it is the continental stage where he has truly risen to the occasion. 

The previous round match against Yokohama F. Marinos is a perfect example of how crucial he has been in this campaign. Kim started the fightback with a thunderous left-footed strike. He then won the ball at the halfway line which started the move for the team's second goal. This was followed by Kim shielding the ball and allow his teammate to take over and score Suwon's third goal. In doing so, Kim Tae-hwan was involved in all three goals and has been an integral part of executing Park Kun-ha's plans. 

His attacking abilities have surely caught the eye of the onlookers, but his willingness to track back and the defensive side of his game is playing a major part in Suwon's continental success. Will Kim Tae-hwan conjure up another eye-catching performance to take the Bluewings through?    


This should be an evenly fought contest. Suwon is high on confidence, being unbeaten since the tournament resumed in Qatar. Both teams could start cautiously, which could make for a cagey first half but expect things to change in the second half of the contest. A lot depends on whether Vissel Kobe's injury doubts will be available in this match. Having said that, it feels that the one-off knockout format perfectly suits the Bluewings and they might just edge it and march on.

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