Korean champions Ulsan to duel Japanese club Yokohama for berth in AFC Champions League final

A promotional poster for the memorial event scheduled for the late Ulsan player Yoo Sang-chul is seen in this file photo provided by Ulsan HD FC, April 15. Yonhap

Two-time reigning Korean champions Ulsan HD FC will battle Japanese side Yokohama F. Marinos this month for a spot in the final of the top Asian club football tournament.The two teams will clash in the two-legged semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, with Ulsan hosting the opening leg at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Yokohama will be the home team for the second leg at 7 p.m. on April 24.Ulsan captured each of the past two K League 1 titles, while Yokohama were crowned the J1 League champions in 2022.The winner of this Korea-Japan showdown will meet the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Al Ain FC and Al Hilal.Ulsan are in fine form heading into the opening leg, with their offense firing on all cylinders. In their most recent domestic match Saturday, Ulsan blanked Gangwon FC 4-0 behind a brace by Joo Min-kyu, the 2023 league scoring champion. Midfielder Lee Dong-gyeong had a goal and two assists to become the first player this season to be involved in 10 goals. He ranks second in the league with six goals and first with four assists.Through seven matches, Ulsan lead all K League 1 clubs with 16 goals.”This was the best match we’ve played this season,” Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo said of Saturday’s victory. “And we have another important match coming up in the AFC Champions League. We will stay humble and prepare for the match the best we can.”

Joo, who has three goals in the AFC tournament, said, “Our pride is on the line and we want to win this matchup for the rest of the K League.” Ulsan’s defense has also settled down after a rocky start, having posted consecutive clean-sheet victories.Goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, who stopped a penalty against Gangwon en route to his third clean sheet of the season, said he wants to make Ulsan supporters proud.”We’re confident we can win the first match because we’ll be at home,” Jo said. “We want to prove that we are the best of the K League. We will give our fans much to cheer about when they come to see us play.”Ulsan are also chasing a ticket to the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup.The revamped FIFA tournament will award the AFC four spots. Al Hilal and Urawa Red Diamonds, as the two most recent AFC Champions League winners, have grabbed two of them. The winner of the ongoing AFC Champions League will secure another spot, and the one remaining berth will go to the top team in the AFC club rankings, which are based on clubs’ performances at the AFC Champions League in the 2021-2024 period.Al Hilal are atop the rankings but they have already qualified for the Club World Cup. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of the K League 1, who lost to Ulsan in the quarterfinals of this year’s Champions League, are in second place with 80 points. Ulsan, currently at 78 points, will move past Jeonbuk with a win in either of the legs in the semifinals.A match victory and progress to the next stage of the AFC tournament are each worth three points, and a draw is good for 스포츠토토존 one point.

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