x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

FC Seoul turmoil may give Al Ain a second chance

The Pro League club may regret sending a weakened team to FC Seoul for their Asian Champions League Group F tie.

Al Ain, in white, lost 1-0 to FC Seoul the last time the two met in the Garden City on March 1.
Al Ain, in white, lost 1-0 to FC Seoul the last time the two met in the Garden City on March 1.

Al Ain may regret sending a weakened team to FC Seoul for their Asian Champions League Group F tie tonight.

As well as lacking confidence and organisation, the South Korean champions are also without a head coach - and no one knows better than UAE teams the effects of a sudden coaching departure.

The visitors need a win to keep alive their hopes of a place in the knockout stage and this could be the perfect time.

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Seoul may have won 1-0 at Al Ain on March 1 but that seems a very long time ago, especially for Hwangbo Kwan. That was his first game in charge of the K-League champions and it was as good as it got. After just one victory from the first two months of the domestic season and amid growing unrest from the fans and speculation from the media, he resigned on April 25.

Sergio Farias, the Brazilian left Al Wasl in April, has let it be known that he wants the job. His success in Korea with Pohang - the 2007 K-League title and 2009 Asian triumph - is well remembered, but so is the way he left.

After the 2009 Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, Farias pledged his future to Pohang only to leave for Saudi Arabia and Al Nasr.

Hwangbo departed just as suddenly but few mourned. "It is the first time in our 28 years that we have lost a coach in the middle of the season," Han Woong-soo, the Seoul chief executive, said.

"Coach Hwangbo told us of his intention to resign and we accepted that. We all agree that there is a need for a change."

There was. Arriving at the start of the year to replace the outgoing Nelo Vingada, the Portuguese tactician who delivered the title in 2010, the Korean's appointment left fans underwhelmed.

Arriving from Oita Trinita, a team struggling in the lower reaches of Japan's second tier, the task of taking the champions of one of Asia's top leagues, who averaged almost 35,000 fans a game in 2010, to the next level always seemed to be too big a task.

That next level means, in part, success in Asia. Seoul want what Al Ain had in 2003 - a continental crown. "A club like Seoul should be challenging for Asian titles," said Hwangbo soon after arriving. "The K-League is a strong league and FC Seoul are a strong team in that league."

The logic was sound. Korean teams have been Asian champions nine times and compared to recent winners such as Jeonbuk Motors in 2006, Pohang in 2009 and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in 2010, Seoul's line-up was strong.

Last year, their strikers Dejan Damjanovic, a Montenegro international, and Jung Jo-gook banged in the goals, helped by the likes of Choi Tae-wook and Server Djeparov from Uzbekistan, the 2008 Asian Player of the Year. Throw in a strong defence and you have a recipe for success.

This year has been a different story. The fact that Choi has been injured, Jung sold to Auxerre in France and three internationals joined the military, partly explain the club's loss of form.

Hwangbo also blamed poor pitches, the defensive tactics of other teams and their desire to get one over on the champions.

It is debatable as to how influential those factors were but it is clear that Seoul were not playing as a team. New signing Mauricio Molina was hugely influential in Seongnam's 2010 success but the Colombian has looked lost in the capital, unlike their opponents.

When Nagoya Grampus came to Seoul World Cup Stadium on April 19 to win 2-0, they were everything that Seoul were not - clinical, organised and efficient.

Under Choi Yong-soo, their caretaker coach, Seoul picked up a welcome home win on Saturday to Jeju United but there was much to encourage Al Ain.

So while the UAE club may be focusing on domestic concerns, this is a continental challenge that should not be as difficult as first thought, which is why Alexandre Gallo should have thought twice about sending his second string.

 

sports@thenational.ae