Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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Ulsan looking to live up to ‘Tigers of Asia’ nickname

  • Ulsan Hyundai competing in FIFA Club World Cup for the second time
  • The AFC Champions League winners face Tigres UANL on 4 February
  • Several Ulsan players preview an enticing second round fixture

This week will see the ‘Battle of the Tigers’ take place. Separated by almost 11,500 kilometres on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, Ulsan Hyundai Tigers of the K-League and Tigres UANL of Liga MX will get the rare opportunity to see which tiger is superior when the sides face off in the second round of the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020™.

Ulsan’s players are relishing the opportunity fresh off of winning the AFC Champions League at the end of 2020. The Korea Republic side will be in familiar surroundings as the Asian club championship was postponed due to COVID-19 and restarted with a centralised tournament held in Qatar.

The Tigers’ sensational journey culminated with a 2-1 victory over Persepolis in the final with Yoon Bitgaram named the tournament’s most valuable player.

“I just tried to enjoy the games rather than feeling burdened with pressure to perform,” Yoon said. “It wasn’t just me – the rest of the squad also enjoyed playing together, which I think gave us positive energy and enabled us to perform as well as we did.

“The most memorable goal would be the one against FC Tokyo (during the group phase), when I scored direct from a free-kick. It was an important equaliser in a haniljeon derby (one involving teams from Korea Republic and Japan), which is why this game stands out for me the most.”

Not only can coach Hong Myungbo rely on Yoon to be the fulcrum of a deadly attack, he also has a sturdy defence laying the foundation of what got them to Qatar 2020 in the first place. Ulsan allowed only seven goals in ten matches throughout their AFC Champions League campaign.

Centre-back Kim Keehee and defensive midfielder Won Dujae will be key in stifling the goalscoring threat posed by Tigres’ all-time leading goalscorer Andre-Pierre Gignac.

“Flying the flag for the K-League as well as representing Ulsan Hyundai in an exclusive tournament that only a small number of teams from around the world get to play in [excites me most],” Kim said. “For us that’s really exciting, and we’re having fun preparing for our upcoming match.

Just like Kim, the uniqueness of the Club World Cup is not lost on Won. “This isn’t a competition that just anyone can enter. Whether you’re from Asia or Europe, only the best teams from each region participate. It’s a great honour and we have to be at the top of our game.

“I think all the players have the same goal: which is to go all the way. But we want to win our upcoming game first and only then think about our overall objective.”


Siamak Nemati of Persepolis and Won Dujae of Ulsan Hyundai compete for the ball during the AFC Champions League final

© Getty Images

If Tigres find a way past them, Won and Kim know they have a goalkeeper in Jo Hyeonwoo who has experience being successful on the international stage. Jo was in goal for Korea Republic when they shocked Germany at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

“We have to come out stronger than our opponents,” Jo said. “Our 11 players gel well as a team and will produce exciting displays on the pitch. We need to live up to our ‘Tigers of Asia’ nickname and prove that we’re not an easy team to play against.”

If the ‘Tigers of Asia’ can beat the ‘Tigers of Concacaf’, they will be met by a Porco (Pig) in the semi-final, the nickname of Copa Libertadores winners Palmeiras.


Jo Hyeonwoo of Ulsan Hyundai looks on

© imago images

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