SEOUL// It is hard to believe that Bunyodkor's march towards the Asian Champions League final was derailed, albeit temporarily, with a 2-0 defeat to Pro League side Al Shabab in the group stage in March. Since then the Uzbek side have hit top form after appointing Luiz Felipe Scolari as coach in June. They go into today's quarter-final second leg in South Korea with a two-goal advantage over Pohang Steelers. The Tashkent side scored two late goals to defeat their 10-men opponents last week and keep on course for a place in November's final
Unlike Pohang, who returned to Korea to defeat Busan I'Park 2-1 on Saturday, Bunyodkor had the weekend off and, due to the fact that the talented squad is 19 points clear at the top of the table with seven games remaining, the focus of the visitors is solely on progressing to the last four in the continental competition. It was no surprise to see Pohang looking tired at the weekend; the team only arrived home 24 hours before their K-League match and coach Sergio Farias rested more than half of the XI that started in Tashkent. "It has been a tough few days for us, But now we are thinking about the second leg. If we play to the best of our ability then we have a great chance to win," said the Brazilian.
He knows, however, that the Steelers will have to keep a close eye on former World Player of the Year Rivaldo - despite the fact that the former Barcelona star is 37. "He still has fantastic skills and he carries his years lightly on his shoulders, but defensive midfielder Shin Hyung-min will take care of him for us," said Farias. Midfielder Kim Tae-su added: "He [Rivaldo] is not as involved as much as he used to be when he was at his peak. But he keeps the ball well and his supply to the strikers is a threat to us. But it will be different at home. "
Pohang could meet K-League leaders FC Seoul in the last four, although Seoul will have to overcome a 3-2 deficit at home against Umm Salal of Qatar. The side from Korea's capital beat Daejeon 3-0 on Sunday to maintain their place at the top of the domestic league with Jung Jo-gook, who scored twice in Qatar, getting two more. Besides Pohang, the only one of the teams still involved to have been previously crowned Asian champions are Al Ittihad. The Saudi Arabians had a 1-1 draw at the home of Uzbekistan's Pakhtakor last week and are favourites to progress to the last four meeting with a Japanese opponent.
Kawasaki Frontale came back from a goal down to defeat Nagoya Grampus 2-1 at home last week. Nagoya's towering Australian striker Josh Kennedy said: "The first match against Kawasaki was very tough, but we have a good chance to go through if we can keep a clean sheet at home and score one. "It would be great to play in the final in Tokyo in November." firstname.lastname@example.org