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Familiar Faces in 2023-2024 AFC Champions League

With the draw made on Thursday for the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League, the K League contingent learned who they will be facing in this year's competition.
It also means they know which familiar faces they'll be coming up against with several former K League players also involved in this year's competition. 

Group F - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Kitchee SC

Jeonbuk, for instance, will come up against their former striker Kim Shin-wook who is currently the number nine for Kitchee SC. Kim Shin-wook took over the shirt from Dejan Damjanović who recently announced his retirement. 'The Wookie,' now 35, joined Kitchee from Lion City Sailors in February of this year and was able to add the Hong Kong Cup and Hong Kong league title to his collection. 

Kim left Jeonbuk midway through the 2019 campaign to join Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua where he won the Chinese FA Cup. He's a two-time ACL winner, of course, having been part of the 2016 Jeonbuk squad and Ulsan's in 2012.

Group G - Incheon United

Yokohama F. Marinos

FC Seoul fans will remember Anderson Lopes from the season he spent on loan with the club in 2018. He played 31 times for FC Seoul, scoring seven and assisting five in what was a disappointing year for the capital club, one which resulted in a promotion-relegation playoff. Anderson was on loan from Tombense in Brazil and had been on the books of Sanfrecce Hiroshima the year before. Upon his return to Japan, he told the media that he regretted the move across the East Sea: 

"Korea is close to Japan so I thought the culture and lifestyle would be similar but it wasn't at all. In all honesty, the transfer (to FC Seoul) was a failure and I regret it. I wasn't offered any help or welcomed." 

Anderson has done a bit of traveling since then, he moved to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo and then Wuhan Yangtze before joining Yokohama F. Marinos.

Nam Tae-hee is also with Yokohama F. Marinos. Although the attacking midfielder has never played in K League, he has represented the South Korean national team 53 times. Nam moved to Japan earlier this year after a long spell in the Qatar Stars League, first with Al Duhail and then Al-Sadd. Nam won seven league titles in Qatar and multiple domestic cups but never the AFC Champions League, although he has appeared in the west side of the competition over 80 times.

Shandong Taishan

Former Daejeon Hana Citizen winger Matheus Pato is currently on the books with Chinese Super League side Shandong Taishan. Pato left Purple Arena at the end of the 2021 season and joined Indonesian Liga 1 side Borneo FC. Pato enjoyed a prolific spell with the club, scoring 34 times in 44 appearances and earned a move to Chinese Super League giants Shandong. Pato had two spells with Daejeon, the first in 2019 - pre-Hana era - when he was registered as "Antonio."

Shandong Taishan's manager is Choi Kang-hee, the former Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Korean national team boss. Choi has been in charge since May this year and has spent all of his post-Jeonbuk career in the Chinese Super League, first with the now-defunct Tianjin Tianhai, then Dalian Yifang and then Shanghai Shenhua with whom he won the Chinese FA Cup in 2019.


Group H

Buriram United

There are no fewer than three former K Leaguers on the books at Thai giants Buriram United. Kim Min-hyeok is one and joined the reigning Thai champions on a free after leaving Seongnam FC. Kim is most known for this spell with Jeonbuk where he spent three seasons and won three K League titles and one FA Cup.

Former Suwon Bluewing Nicolao Dumitru is also on Buriram's books. The Italian winger didn't have the best of spells at Big Bird, scoring just once in 17 league appearances. After leaving K League, Dumitru joined UTA Arad in Romania's top flight before moving to Ihud Bnei Sakhnin in Israel and later Buriram.

Thai national team wingback Sasalak Haiprakhon is the other former K Leaguer who's currently with Buriram. He joined Jeonbuk on loan from Buriram in 2021 but made just two appearances for the Green Warriors.

FNR


Melbourne City

Well-traveled midfielder Terry Antonis is currently with Melbourne City but K League fans will perhaps know him for his two-year spell with Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Antonis joined the Bluewings in the summer of 2019 and won the FA Cup that year. After leaving Big Bird, Antonis signed for Western Sydney Wanderers before moving to Melbourne.

Zhejiang FC

Brazilian striker Leonardo only left K League last winter and did so having helped Ulsan Hyundai win a first K League title in 17 years. He scored 11 goals in 32 K League appearances for the club that year and also represented the Horangi in the ACL, scoring two and assisting two in six appearances. Leonardo enjoyed his time at the Munsu so much that he got a K League trophy tattoo on his leg. Leonardo was on loan from Shandong Taishan to whom he returned before moving to CC Yatai on loan and then Zhejiang, also on loan.

Group I - Ulsan Hyundai

Kawasaki Frontale

Veteran goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong has been with Kawasaki Frontale since 2016 having joined the Japanese giants from Suwon Bluewings in January of that year. He's made around 300 appearances for the club and won pretty much all there is to win domestically in Japan. He's also won the ACL, having lifted the trophy with Seongnam in 2010. Jung is no stranger to facing K League teams in the ACL having come up against his former employers Suwon in 2017, Ulsan in 2018, 2019, and 2022, and Daegu in 2021.

Johor Darul Ta'zim

A drink-driving conviction led to Takahiro Kunimoto's departure from Jeonbuk last July after two seasons in North Jeolla. He moved to Portugal initially with Casa in July 2022 before returning to Asia a year later with his current team Johor Darul Ta'zim.

BG Pathum United

Danilo Alves was part of the Suwon FC side that won promotion to K League 1 via the playoffs in 2020. His career before and after Castle Park can only be described as nomadic with the Brazilian journeyman having played for 11 different teams in six different countries.

Group J - Pohang Steelers

Wuhan Three Towns

Former Incheon United, Gyeongnam FC, Suwon FC, and Gimcheon Sangmu centre back Park Ji-soo recently made the move to China and Wuhan Three Towns. The Korean international had been in Portugal with Portimonense where he made 14 appearances during the 2022/2023 season but returned to China earlier this year. Park has Chinese Super League experience already, of course, having won the league title with Guangzhou Evergrande in 2019.


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