Suwon aim to soar to the next level
Korea Republic’s Suwon Bluewings return to the AFC Champions League on Wednesday against A-League leaders Central Coast Mariners with new coach Seo Jung-won promising attractive football as the K-League side begin their pursuit of a third continental title.
Suwon are gunning for glory in this year’s ACL
Former Korea international and club legend Seo took over from Yoon Sung-hyo after Suwon finished fourth in the K-League last season to earn a return to the AFC Champions League courtesy of Pohang Steelers’ FA Cup win having reached the semi-finals in 2011.
And with Seo having played a central role as Suwon won back-to-back Asian Club Championship titles in 2001 and 2002, the 42-year-old former winger has now set his sights on toppling Asia once again in his first head coaching role.
“Every coach wants to be a champion, and I am no different. However, showing that Suwon can play attractive football is more important than winning titles,” said Seo, who represented Korea at two FIFA World Cups in 1994 and 1998 before retiring in 2007.
“I will do my best to make sure we show the real Suwon, the Suwon who can conquer Asia.
“There is no easy team this season. We will not be overconfident and we will try our best in every game we play.”
New signing Jong Tae-se is set to make his first competitive appearance for Suwon on Wednesday after the DPR Korea international joined in January with the former Kawasaki Frontale striker having spent the last two years in Germany with Vfl Bochum and FC Koln.
“Jong Tae-se has much potential. He is fast, very combative and scores goals calmly. My duty is to help him pull up his potential to the highest level,” added Seo.
“Jong Tae-se is the kind of player who is ready to sacrifice for his fellow players. I am expecting that he will be a great help to our team.”
With the new K-League Classic season set to start next month, defending Australian Premiers Central Coast welcome Suwon to Gosford Stadium having regained the lead at the top of the A-League table with a timely 6-2 win over Melbourne Victory on Saturday.
Midfielder Michael McGlinchey scored a hat-trick and striker Mitchell Duke added a brace as Graham Arnold’s Mariners made ideal preparations for the start of their second consecutive AFC Champions League appearance having appeared in the group stage last season.
Daniel McBreen was unable to add to his A-League tally at the weekend, although Suwon will need to keep an eye on the well-travelled striker, with the 35-year-old having netted 15 times in 18 appearances for the Mariners this season.
“Last year in our first couple of games in the AFC Champions League we weren’t too sure what to expect, but now we know what to expect and we can go out with confidence,” said McBreen, who scored twice for the Mariners in the group stage last year.
“We know we can beat the teams and we can get the three points.”
Also in Group H on Wednesday, Chinese Super League side Guizhou Renhe begin their maiden AFC Champions League campaign at home to Japanese Emperor’s Cup winner Kashiwa Reysol.
Last year represented Guizhou’s best top-flight finish in eight years, while Gao Hongbo’s side also lost 5-3 on aggregate to domestic double winners Guangzhou Evergrande in the FA Cup final.
Gao, though, will not be in the dugout on Wednesday after the former China coach stepped down just before the start of pre-season training to be replaced by assistant Gong Lei.
Kashiwa, meanwhile, reached the Round of 16 on their debut appearance last year before losing 3-2 to eventual champions Ulsan Hyundai.
Elsewhere, 2009 champions Pohang begin their campaign at home to China’s Beijing Guoan in Group G, while J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima entertain 2012 semi-finalists Bunyodkor from Uzbekistan.
In the West, last year’s runners-up Al Ahli take on Qatar’s Al Gharafa, while Iran champions Sepahan also face play-off winners Al Nasr in Group C.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli finally made an impression on the AFC Champions League last year after reaching the final only to lose 3-0 to Ulsan, but Karel Jarolim’s side return this year having retained the King’s Cup title.
Al Ahli have kept hold of the core members of the squad which took Jarolim’s side to the final last year with Oman international Amad Al Hosni and Brazilian striker Victor Simoes – who was the third highest scorer in the AFC Champions League last season – key attacking threats, while former Al Hilal defender Osama Hawsawi joined at the end of last year following a brief spell in Belgium.
Alain Perrin’s Al Gharafa will also be confident of scoring goals this season having signed Brazilian winger Nene and French striker Djibril Cisse.
Nene was the joint top scorer in France’s Ligue 1 during the 2011-12 season after netting 21 goals for Paris Saint Germain, while Cisse joined on loan from English Premier League side Queens Park Rangers.
UAE Pro League side, Al Nasr, meanwhile secured a second consecutive appearance in the AFC Champions League after Walter Zenga’s side edged out Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv 3-2 in the play-offs earlier this month thanks to a late penalty from Leo Lima.
In Group D, inaugural AFC Champions League winners Al Ain entertain Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, while Iran’s Esteghlal travel to Qatar to face Al Rayyan.
Al Ain, who beat Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana 2-1 on aggregate in the 2003 final, remain on course to defend their UAE Pro League title this season despite Cosmin Olaroiu’s side suffering a surprise 1-0 defeat by basement side Dibba Al Fujairah on Thursday to see their lead at the top of the table cut to six points.
Despite the defeat, Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan has scored 16 goals in 21 appearances for Al Ain this season having found the net 25 times during the previous campaign.
World Sport Group
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