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ACL Semifinal Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Yokohama F. Marinos

A place in the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League final awaits the winners of Ulsan Hyundai versus Yokohama F. Marinos in this high-stakes Korea versus Japan clash. Ulsan have a good record against J.League opposition, while Yokohama F. Marinos have to go back to 2020 for their last win over a K League side.

Overview & Match Information

Fixture: 2023-2024 AFC Champions League Semifinal Leg 1
Venue: Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium
Date: Wednesday 17th April 2024, 19:00 KST
Streaming: Naver, tvN Sports, TVING, Daum (all Korea only)

The 2023-2024 AFC Champions League has reached the final four, two from the East and two from the West. Ulsan Hyundai and Yokohama F. Marinos are the two teams from the East side of the competition vying for a place in the two-leg final. The winners of this semifinal tie will face either Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia or Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates. The match also has FIFA World Club Cup implications as if Ulsan and Al-Hilal reach the final, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will qualify based on ranking points.

How They Got Here

Ulsan were placed in Group I and finished second after two wins over BG Pathum United and one against Johor Darul Ta'zim, and a draw against Kawasaki Frontale. In the Round of 16, Ulsan overcame Ventforet Kofu 5-1 on aggregate after a 3-0 home win and 2-1 away. In the quarters, the Horangi knocked out fellow K League side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Jeonju and a 1-0 win at the Munsu.

Yokohama F. Marinos were drawn into Group G with Incheon United, losing to the Durumi home and away. However, the J.League giants picked up two wins each over Kaya-Iloilo and Shandong Taishan to finish top of the group. In the first knockout round, Yokohama F. Marinos eased past True Bangkok United 3-2 on aggregate following a 2-2 draw in the Thai capital and a 1-0 extra-time win in Japan, courtesy of a 122nd Anderson Lopes penalty. In the quarters, Marinos again locked hours with Shandong Taishan, winning 2-1 away and 1-0 at home.

Recent Form

Ulsan put four past Gangwon FC on Saturday thanks to a double from Joo Min-kyu and goals from Lee Dong-gyeong and Um Won-sang. It was Ulsan's second win on the bounce and second cleansheet in as many matches with seven goals scored. Sixteen goals for the season is also the best in the division.

Yokohama F. Marinos drew 2-2 at home to 10-man Shanon Bellmare on Saturday, with former Korean international Nam Tae-hee making it 2-1 two minutes after the restart. Harry Kewell's men sit fifth in J1 League with four wins, two draws, and two losses from eight matches played. The draw extended Yokohama's unbeaten run to four.

The Opposition

(Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Founded in 1972 as Nissan Motor FC, Yokohama F. Marinos qualified for the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League by winning the J1 League title in 2022, then under manager Kevin Muscat who was in the dugout for the two matches against Incheon United. It was the club's seventh J1 League title and second in four years.

They reached the Round of 16 in 2022 and 2020, their two most recent continental campaigns. They have appeared in the AFC Champions League (including the Asian Club Championship) 9 times, and their best finish is as runners-up in 1989-90, losing to Liaoning of China 3-2 over two legs. The club has won the Asian Cup Winners' Cup on two occasions, back-to-back in 1991-92 and 1992-93. Reaching the semifinals marks the club's best achievement in the ACL era.


The upcoming semifinal clashes will be the first meetings between the two teams. However, Ulsan are no stranger to facing Japanese opposition in the ACL, likewise Yokohama F. Marinos with teams from K League.

Ulsan's record against J.League reads 14 wins, six draws, and seven losses. This season, from four meetings with J.League opposition, it's two wins - both against J2 outfit Ventforet Kofu - and a draw and one loss against Kawasaki Frontale. During Ulsan's march to ACL glory in 2020, the Horangi earned four points from six in the group stage against FC Tokyo, and beat Vissel Kobe in extra time in the semis.

Yokohama's record against K League opposition is three wins, one draw, and five losses. Two of those losses were against Incheon in the group stage of this season's competition while Yokohama's last win over a K League side was in 2020, beating Jeonbuk 4-1.

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What to Watch

The battle for control

This first leg will be a battle for control of the whole tie, a positive result for either team sets them up for the all-important second leg next week. But it'll also be interesting to see how two possession-based teams acquit themselves. Ulsan, being the reigning champions of K League, are used to having teams sit back against them, which has, in part, led to the Horangi racking up 56.8% possession on average this season, the most in the division. However, as was the case against Gangwon, should a team try to out-football Ulsan, they are lethal on the counterattack. How Yokohama set themselves up against Ulsan will be something to keep an eye on. 

Yokohama F. Marinos enjoy a lot of possession and rank second in this record at 59.2% in the league this season, fourth for total passes, and fourth for accuracy at 84%. They also score highly for passed per defensive action against (PPDA), sitting third in this regard at 12.14, while the team's passing rate is the fourth-highest in J1 at 15.2. Likewise, Ulsan rank fourth for PPDA at 13.18, and first for passing rate (passes per minute of possession). 

Judging from how the two teams have started their domestic campaigns, there should be plenty of goals in this match. Yokohama F. Marinos are among the top scorers in J1 with 12 (joint 2nd) but have also shipped nine, the highest among the top eight teams. Ulsan, meanwhile, have scored 16 (1st) and have conceded nine, the second-highest among the top four teams. Yokohama are third for total shots this season in J1 with 120 and fourth for accuracy at 38.3%. Ulsan are third for total shots (84) but first for accuracy with 54.8%.

Who to Watch

Lee Dong-gyeong, Ulsan Hyundai

These two matches against Yokohama F. Marinos will likely be, if selected, Lee Dong-gyeong's last in the ACL until 2026. The 26-year-old has featured in eight ACL matches this season, four from the start. His two appearances against Jeonbuk came as cameos off the bench, but got 76 minutes under his belt in the away leg against Ventforet Kofu. His only goal contribution in the competition was an assist on matchday one at home to BG Pathum United, teeing up Martin Ádám to make it 1-0 in an eventual 3-1 win. Lee will be looking to make his mark before departing for military service in a few weeks by converting his eclectic league form into the ACL. His league form has been incredible with six goals and four assists in seven matches.

Anderson Lopes, Yokohama F. Marinos

(Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Six appearances, four goals, one assist in the league, and five goals and one assist in seven ACL appearances this term. Needless to say, Anderson Lopes is in fine form. He's made disparaging comments about K League in the past having seemingly not enjoyed his spell with FC Seoul in 2018 and so will be determined to put in a performance, particularly as he watched on from the bench in the 4-2 loss to Incheon in matchday one and played just 27 minutes in the 2-1 defeat in Japan. The Brazilian played just 42 minutes of the 2-2 draw with Shonan Bellmare last time out so will be feeling fresh. Before that, the former FC Seoul forward had scored in back-to-back J1 matches.

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