South Korean football club Suwon Samsung Bluewings will try to pull off a second leg comeback against Japan's Kashima Antlers this week to advance to the Asian Football Confederation Champions League final.
Suwon will host Kashima at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, south of Seoul, on Wednesday for the second leg of their ACL semifinal match. The top team in West Asia will take on the winners between Persepolis of Iran and Al Sadd of Qatar from East Asia.
Both Suwon and Kashima are competing for their first ACL title.
Suwon twice won the Asian Club Championship, the predecessor of the ACL, but have not lifted the trophy since the new continental club tournament was introduced in 2002. Kashima are in their first-ever ACL semifinal stage.
Suwon surrendered a two-goal lead to suffer a painful 3-2 loss in the first leg in Japan. A win with a two-goal margin will secure Suwon's spot in the final. Suwon could also advance with a 1-0 win or a 2-1 win thanks to the away goals rule, but a 3-2 win will force the two teams into extra time or even a penalty shootout.
Suwon have been displaying poor form at home this season when it comes to the ACL. The K League 1 side have won just one from five at Suwon World Cup Stadium, and their latest ACL home action ended in a 3-0 defeat to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, although they joined the last four on penalties.
However, Suwon have been showing solid form in the domestic league since their defeat to Kashima on Oct. 4. They beat Sangju Sangmu 2-1 away from home on Oct. 7 and edged out Jeju United on penalties after a 2-2 draw at the Korea Football Association Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday. Suwon then blanked Pohang Steelers 2-0 at home on Saturday in their K League 1 campaign to stay fourth place in the league table.
Suwon are confident of a second leg comeback with head coach Seo Jung-won, who returned to the helm on Oct. 15, just 48 days after he quit the job. In the ACL semifinal first leg against Kashima, Suwon were managed by caretaker Lee Byung-geun.
Seo is the man who knows Suwon better than anyone else as he has coached the team since 2013. But Seo is experiencing the ACL semifinal stage for the first time. The only time he led Suwon to the ACL knockout stage was in 2015, when his team reached the round of 16.
Suwon's striker Dejan Damjanovic, who scored against Kashima in the first leg, will become the all-time leading scorer at the ACL if he hits the net twice. The Montenegrin is currently one goal shy of Jeonbuk forward Lee Dong-gook's record of 36 goals. Damjanovic has so far netted eight goals at the ACL this season.
Kashima will not be too afraid to play at Suwon's home. Go Oiwa's side played at Suwon World Cup Stadium when they met Suwon in the group stage and collected a 2-1 win.
Kashima's No. 1 goalkeeper, Kwoun Sun-tae, and center back Jung Seung-hyun are also familiar to the venue as they are South Koreans who used to play in the K League 1.
It will be interesting to see how Suwon supporters react to Kwoun, who was lucky to get away with a yellow card after head-butting Suwon midfielder Lim Sang-hyub in the first leg. (Yonhap)