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K League's AFC Champions League stadiums

K League 1 will be represented by four clubs for the 2023-24 AFC Champions League season. There's a good variety of stadiums from modern World Cup bowls to football-specific grounds built in very different eras. Here are the four grounds.

For the very first time, Incheon United will join Asia's elite and compete in the 42nd edition of the AFC Champions League. They left it remarkably late to overcome the surprisingly impressive Hai Phong of the V.League, scoring twice in extra time as the threat of penalty kicks loomed large over Cho Sung-hwan's team.

Qualification was sown up by Gerso Fernandes' iconic premature goal celebration in the August deluge. Aside from potentially career-altering games for Incheon's players and roundtrips of a lifetime for their supporters, one of the great upshots of Incheon's qualification is that the K League's best stadium will get to showcase its impressive beauty to a wider continental audience. 

Supporters from Japan, China, and the Philippines will now get to experience Sungui Arena's unique uncovered North Stand especially if, as was the case versus Hai Phong, torrential rainfall is forecast on match day. The Incheon players will be hoping the proximity of their fans to the visiting players will create an intimidating atmosphere that could give the home team a vital edge.

Incheon Football Stadium, overlooking the uncovered North Stand. (Image: all images, including lead photo, from Instagram.com/groundhopping_korea)

Incheon Football Stadium

  • Team: Incheon United
  • Location: Incheon City, next to Dowon Station
  • Capacity: 20,891
  • Year Opened: 2012
Incheon Football Stadium is a 20,000-capacity football-specific arena that features two double-tiered stands on either side, a large, single terrace/stand behind the south end goals, and a small stand, uncovered, near the subway station for visiting supporters. The black and blue seats match the team's home kit and yellow seats feature the club's name in the East Stand.

It isn't easy deciding where to sit at Sungui Arena. The view of the pitch, three stands, and skyscrapers behind the East Stand are fantastic from the Main Stand. The East Stand, though, features three bars/stores with a pitch view meaning you won't miss any action when ordering a pint. However, the best atmosphere will be in South Stand alongside Incheon's army of raucous fans.

Incheon United has been drawn in Group G alongside Yokohama F. Marinos (J. League champions), Shandong Taishan (Chinese FA winners), and Kaya F.C.-Iloilo (Philippines Football League champions). For football fans in Seoul and Gyeonggi-do, Incheon's home fixtures will be the only opportunity to see continental football this year. Here are their fixtures at Incheon Football Stadium.

Kaya F.C.-Iloilo Wednesday, October 4th 19:00 (TBD for all 3)
Shandong Taishan Wednesday, October 25th 19:00
Yokohama F. Marinos Tuesday, November 28th 19:00

Jeonbuk Motors is no stranger to Champions League football. This will be their 16th appearance, the most in the West region, and they secured their automatic spot by dint of a runner-up spot in the 2022 K League season, and winning the Korean FC Cup. They have won the trophy twice, their most recent success in 2016. 

Presumably, the statement hiring of Romanian legend Dan Petescu was to regain domestic supremacy and claim a third Asian trophy. To achieve the second goal, they must qualify from Group F featuring Bangkok United (Thai League runners-up), Lion City Sailors (Singapore Premier League runners-up), and Kitchee (Hong Kong League and Cup winner). It should be a mere formality.

Jeonju World Cup Stadium, home stadium of Jeonbuk Motors.

Jeonju World Cup Stadium

  • Team: Jeonbuk Motors
  • Location: North Jeolla Province, Jeonju-si
  • Capacity: 36,781
  • Year Opened: 2001
Jeonbuk plays at the city's Jeonju World Cup Stadium. Also known as Fort Jeonju, the ground was built for the 2002 World Cup and, thankfully, doesn't have a running track. The four double-tiered stands are not connected, which is a cool feature, and somewhat dissimilar to the grounds of the era currently in use. There is a small safe-standing section behind one of the goals. 

In June 2002, Spain and Portugal recorded group-stage wins in Jeonju before the USA dumped out rivals Mexico in the Round of 16. Jeonju, perhaps because of the city's size, doesn't host a lot of national team games, but it was used for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup and three AFC Finals. Also, given Jeonbuk's unrivaled success in recent seasons, Jeonju has seen its fair share of enormous domestic fixtures.

Jeonju lacks the same match-day buzz as Incheon and Pohang because the stadium, even for a seismic AFC Champions League game, is too big. From my experience, the best place to sit is on the upper tier, near halfway, across from the main stand. The view is exceptional but the home fans are far away.

Here are Jeonbuk's home fixtures.

Kitchee Tuesday, September 19th 19:00
Lion City Sailors Tuesday, October 24th 19:00
Bangkok United Wednesday, December 13th 19:00

Meanwhile, Ulsan Hyundai take their spot for the 11th time having claimed a first K League title since 2005. Interestingly, they added AFC titles in 2012 and 2020 between their two most recent domestic successes. The Munsu-based club are odds-on to go back-to-back in K League 1 and as long as they can maintain their firm grip on the top flight, they'll be able to focus largely on matching Pohang's record (see below).

To do so, Ulsan will need to first overcome Kawasaki Frontale (J League 1 runners-up), Johor Darul Ta'zim (Malaysian treble winners), and BG Bathum United (Thai League 1 runners-up) in Group I. The games with the Japanese team will likely define the group but Ulsan should progress with minimal discomfort. Hong Myung-bo's side doesn't have domestic Cup games to worry about so this tournament will get their full attention.

Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium is a marvelous sight when the crowds show up.

Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium

  • Team: Ulsan Hyundai
  • Location: Ulsan city, halfway between downtown and the city's isolated KTX station
  • Capacity: 44,474
  • Year Opened: 2001
Like Jeonju, Munsu was built for the 2002 World Cup. There is no running track and the stadium consists of four, double-tiered and connected stands. The design looks basic but there are interesting features in the corners including a section devoted to tents. One of the great curiosities of Munsu is the tiny-screen TV above the away fans. It looks like it shrunk in the wash.

The home fans sit and stand in the South Stand, and this is possibly the best place to watch a game in Munsu. The view is naturally better from either of the two long stands, but as Kawasaki will be arriving in December, when the weather is likely to be chilly, standing, jumping, and dancing with the home supporters will be a better option.

Denmark defeated Uruguay, and Brazil controversially overcame Turkey in the group stages of '02 in Ulsan. Following USA's success in Jeonju, they moved to Ulsan where their World Cup dream was eventually ended by Germany.  Before the World Cup, Munsu hosted three games at the 2001 Confederations Cup. The Korean national team sporadically uses Ulsan for home games.

Here are the fixtures in Munsu.

BG Pathum United Tuesday, September 19th 19:00 (TBD for all 3)
Johor Darul Ta'zim Tuesday, October 24th 19:00
Kawasaki Frontale Wednesday, December 13th 19:00

Pohang Steelers, finally, are Asian Royalty. Their three championships are bettered by no one in Korea and they made the final on their last appearance, in 2021. The Steel Yard is another K League venue that should be on every football fan's bucket list and the proximity of the pitch to the fans will likely intimidate many traveling players. Pohang finished third last season in K League 1.

The Steelers are in Group J, which looks the most exciting and difficult to call. Progress looks within Pohang's capabilities but will likely hinge on how many points Pohang accumulates on the road. Urawa Red Diamonds (defending champion), Wuhan Three Towns (Chinese Super League winners), and Hanoi FC (V.League 1 champion) will provide the opposition and some brilliant away trips.

The Steel Yard. A stadium that should be visited at least once if you're in Korea.

Pohang Steel Yard

  • Team: Pohang Steelers
  • Location: North Gyeongsang Province, Pohang-si
  • Capacity: 17,443
  • Year Opened: 1990
The Steel Yard opened in 1990 becoming the first football-specific stadium in Korea. The 17,000-capacity is small by K League 1 standards but the atmosphere generated is one of the best. The sidelines are only 4 meters from the first row of seats. There are four equal-sized double-tiered stands with safe standing behind one of the goals. The upper tier is really steep, which creates the stadium's intimidating atmosphere.

Pohang is a great stadium to wander around. Buy a ticket for whatever section, up or down, and walk the four sides. The noise rising from the North Stand is impressive, but so is the view from the pathways on the upper tier at the back. The worst seats are at the back of the lower tier because the overhanging blocks feel claustrophobic and can impact sight lines.

Pohang Steelers versus Urawa Red Diamonds appears to be the most intriguing game in the group stages. Here are Pohang's home fixtures.

Wuhan Three Towns Wednesday, October 4th 19:00
Urawa Red Diamonds Tuesday, November 7th 19:00
Hanoi FC November, Tuesday 28th 19:00

Due to the midweek kick-offs and location of my house, I'm hoping to see two of Incheon's home games and Pohang's potential classic with Urawa Red Diamonds. Wherever you go, don't forget to download Futbology, check-in and shares photos of AFC Champions League games in K League stadiums!


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