This week sees the first round of the Group Stages of the 2018 ACL and for many of the teams it’s that much awaited first competitive match of the season and the chance to showcase the new additions to the squad. The first round has a couple of matches which even at this early stage could go a long way to deciding who gets out the group and who gets to “focus on the domestic scene”. As always expectations are high and following last year’s pretty embarrassing showing in the groups it will be interesting to see if we will see a bit more from the K-League representatives this year. Most Korean eyes will be on Jeonbuk and Suwon, with Jeonbuk having it all to prove after being kicked out at the last minute last year….will Tiago and Adriano be enough to se them throgh? Will Dejan be the talisman Suwon need to push for ACL glory? There’s not long to wait now until those questions are answered.
First up we have the two matches on Tuesday…
Melbourne Victory vs Ulsan Hyundai
Trips to Australia are never easy for the away team and generally even more so when they are the first competitive match of the season for them. Given that the A-League is already well underway Melbourne should have the edge in terms of match fitness. That being said however they do currently sit 5th in the table after twenty games and are on something of a losing streak. Ulsan had a poor start to their ACL campaign in 2017 losing 2-0 in Japan to Kashima Antlers before bouncing back with a 6-0 victory over Brisbane Roar. They’ve kept a hold of Mislav Orsic and Richard Winbichler and they will be huge figures in any assault they make on Asia this year. Ulsan have won on their last three trips down under but this one might be just a little too early for them.
Prediction : Score Draw : Melbourne Victory 1 Ulsan Hyundai 1
Jeonbuk Hyundai vs Kashiwa Reysol
A still aggrieved Jeonbuk will return to ACL action at home in the fist match of the 2018 Groups which will be their first game in the ACL since winning the crown in 2016. We all know what happened last year and given their close season action it definitely looks like the boys in green are determined to make the AFC pay for kicking them out. They’ve brought in the firepower of Tiago and Adriano, Kim Shin Wook has been in fine scoring form with the National team of late and Hong Jeong Ho has also been recruited for this year. On paper Jeonbuk look like they should be winning their group and to be honest few would bet against them doing the ACL & K-League double this year. That being said Kashiwa Reysol are a reasonably strong J-League side and easily brushed aside Muangthong United in the playoffs with Cristiano Da Silva carrying his good form of 2017 into this year as he bagged a brace. It should be a cracking match for neutrals and fans alike.
Prediction : Home Win : Jeonbuk Hyundai 2 Kashiwa Reysol 0
Wednesday February 14th
Sydney FC vs Suwon Bluewings
Having come through the playoffs with the minimal of fuss, the Bluewings are faced with a pretty tough looking group and will need to be at their best from the off if they are to progress far in the competition. They disposed of Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa 5-1 on a bitterly cold January evening with all five goals coming from debut-makers and Lim Sang Hyub in particular looking the part. They, like Jeonbuk, have been busy in the close season and with the signings of Dejan and Waguininho have all but replaced the departing Jonathon. In Sydney though they face a tough opponent, currently running away with this year’s A-League they look a team not only in form but capable of scoring for fun as their recent 4-0 victory over Melbourne City showed. It could have been an emotional return to the Allianz Stadium for Matt Jurman but he’s unfortunately out injured and will need to wait until April to line up against his old team.
Prediction : Home Win : Sydney FC 2 Suwon Bluewings 1
Jeju United vs Cerezo Osaka
The final Korean team in action is Jeju United as they welcome Japanese Super Cup winners Cerezo Osaka to the island. Jeju, without doubt, had the best ACL campaign of any K League side last season although the aftermath of their defeat to eventual champions Urawa might be best forgotten. They come into the group stage as K-League runners-up after a fine domestic season but maybe lack the depth of squad needed to challenge on multiple fronts this year. They have never lost at home to a J-League team and will obviously be hoping to keep that run going just a little bit longer. Cerezo might just be looking to ex-Pohang star Yang Dong Hyun for some inside info as the new signing could make a quick return to Korea. The group itself is probably the most open of the East Asian groups and these first few matches could be key in the likely battle to be 2nd to Guangzhou Evergrande.
Prediction : Score Draw : Jeju United 1 – 1 Cerezo Osaka