ACL semi-final preview: FC Seoul v Wanderers
One of the biggest games in the history of Hyundai A-League clubs, Western Sydney Wanderers FC have the chance to lay a platform for qualification into the final while Seoul have unfinished business in this competition. What a game this will be. Here’s everything you need to know from our journos in Seoul and Sydney.
FC Seoul: Sang-Hoon Yoo, Du-Ri Cha, Jin-Kyu Kim, Hyo-Jin Choi, Osmar Barba, Woong-Hee Lee, Myong-Jin Ko, Yo-Han Ko, Sang Hyup Lee, Everton Santos, Hee-Seong Park, Kwang-Min Ko, Yong-Dae Kim, Hyun-Tae Choi, Sergio Escudero, Mauricio Molina, Joo-Young Kim, Il-Lok Yun.
Wanderers: Ante Covic, Daniel Mullen, Daniel Alessi, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Antony Golec, Brendan Hamill, Alusine Fofanah, Mateo Poljak, Yianni Perkatis, Jason Trifiro, Iacopo La Rocca, Kwabena Appiah, Labinot Haliti, Vitor Saba, Mark Bridge, Golgol Mebrahtu, Dean Bouzanis, Steve Kuzmanovski
Broadcast coverage in Australia: Fox Sports 3, Wednesday, September 17 at 8pm (kick off 8.30pm)
What the Korean experts say
Lee Yong-hun, editor of Goal.com in Korea says: FC Seoul are flying these days, they're using rotation but still winning most of their matches...everyone is showing good form so it's difficult to pick who will start [versus Western Sydney Wanderers]. They will be well prepared against the Wanderers.
Strength : Defence. Choi has tweaked Seoul's formation this season, which has seen them play three in defence with wing-backs patrolling the flanks. Against Pohang in the last-eight, Seoul did not concede over two matches, plus extra time in the second leg, eventually prevailing on penalties.
Defender Osmar Barba, who was signed from Buriram United before this season, has been utilised as a defensive midfielder and the 192-centimetre Spaniard is critical to Choi's set-up. In their past five games in all competitions, Seoul have conceded two goals.
The three-man defence is very stable. In the early stage of the season, they had a transitional period but now all the players seem to understand how to defend. Against Pohang in the [ACL] quarter-final, Seoul did not concede a goal in 210 minutes."
Weakness : Attack. With Montenegro international Dejan Damjanovic having left Seoul at the end of last season for the Chinese Super League, Choi doesn't have a top-line striker at his disposal. Damjanovic scored over 10 goals per season in his six years with Seoul, including 31 in 42 matches when they won the 2012 K League championship. Seoul have also lost midfielder Ha Dae-sung to China - he plays alongside Damjanovic at Beijing Guoan - with the 29-year-old having been a regular creator and scorer of goals.
Young South Korean winger Yun Il-lok is leading Seoul's scoring charts on both the domestic and continental fronts but is unavailable due to Asian Games commitments. Seoul are in the bottom half of the K League in terms of goals scored.
Key player in attack would be [Mauricio] Molina. He did not play at all until June due to a knee injury but came back in latter half of the season to prove his worth. He's currently the highest-paid player in K League. He's 34 years old so he's not strong as before, but his excellent free-kick ability is still a danger to opponents."
Coach : Choi Yong-soo is a former South Korea international having played 69 games for the Taegeuk Warriors. The ex-striker made his name with Seoul during their Lucky-Goldstar days, playing 111 league matches for 44 goals.
After taking over as a caretaker coach in April, Choi was given the job permanently before the successful 2012 season. The 41-year-old is a pragmatist, who has generally made his team hard to beat rather than exciting to watch.
Route to goal
With a back three, Seoul can be caught out behind their wing-backs when they push forward. Long-range shooting could also help Tony Popovic's Wanderers, as it could force Seoul's three central defenders out of position as they look to close down efforts on goal.
Seoul's scoring troubles will make the first goal crucial because if Western Sydney take the lead in South Korea, the home side may struggle to break down the Wanderers' well-organised defence. The Wanderers have scored in every ACL match so far and should back themselves to do so again.
Wanderers will look to exploit the space out wide, especially with the pace of Kwabena Appiah on the counter attack.
The Wanderers are likely to sit with the same game plan that has worked so well so far, sit back deep and try and hit the home side on the break, although the defence will be kept busy by the likes of Everton Santos and Sergio Escudero.
It promises to be a tasty battle in the middle of the park with Wanderers’ hardman Iacopo La Rocca likely to be tasked with shackling Seoul’s game-breaker Mauricio Molina.
Happily for the Wanderers there was no repeat of the frosty reception they received when they touched down in China for the quarter-final against Guangzhou. Tony Popovic’s side have been made to feel very welcome in the Korean capital but that is likely to change come kick-off on Wednesday night. It’s the first time these two clubs have ever met.
Who’s been in the spotlight this week?
He’s an unsung hero of the Wanderers outfit but much of the focus for this clash will be on the versatile Labinot Haliti. With first-choice strikers Tomi Juric and Brendon Santalab unavailable through suspension, the 28-year-old will have the responsibility of leading the attack and will have to get through a mountain of work, especially if the visitors don’t have too much possession.
Mistake or master-stroke?
It could be a master-stroke for Tony Popovic to unleash Vitor Saba from the start for the first time, with the Brazilian getting stronger with every outing and he may have the key to unlock the FC Seoul defence for that precious away goal.
It could be a mistake for Seoul to underestimate the visitors’ match-fitness despite being in pre-season, with Popovic getting his squad supremely fit during their recent 10-day camp in Dubai.
Choi Yong-soo's side have not lost in seven league matches, winning six, including away victories at leaders Jeonbuk Motors and reigning champions Pohang Steelers. Seoul also overcame Pohang in the quarter-finals of the ACL. They defeated Incheon United 3-1 on Saturday to sit fifth in the K League on 41 points, 10 adrift of Jeonbuk with seven games remaining.
Despite being deep in their pre-season the Wanderers have still found ways to get results, producing a couple of superb performances to see off Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarter-finals. A recent 10-day training camp in Dubai will ensure they will be well prepared for this one.
Lee says: Western Sydney should be more adventurous in the away game and be stable at home. An away goal could be decisive like last year's ACL final. Guangzhou Evergrande scored two goals in Seoul to draw 2-2 and then drew 1-1 at home to seal their first ACL title."
Greco says: Out of contention for the K-League title, FC Seoul have been able to put most of their focus into the ACL and they will fancy their chances of making back-to-back finals after finding form at the right time. I’m tipping 2-1. But the Wanderers have scored in every one of their ACL games so far and it would be no surprise if they kept that impressive run going.
It might not be enough to get them a win in this leg, but taking an away goal back to Parramatta in two-week’s time could be just as invaluable.