(LEAD) K League foes set to renew rivalry at top Asian club tournament

SEOUL, Two South Korean football rivals will square off this week to begin the knockout stage of the top Asian club tournament, with another team from the country taking on a Japanese foe with an eye on the last eight. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will host Pohang Steelers at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the first leg of the round of 16 at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. The match kicks off at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, about 200 kilometers south of Seoul. The return leg is next Tuesday at Pohang Steel Yard in Pohang, some 260 kilometers southeast of the capital. The aggregate score will determine the winner, with no away goals rule in effect. Pohang defeated Jeonbuk 4-2 to win the Korean FA Cup in November last year. Wednesday's match will be the first of 2024 for both K League 1 sides, whose club season kicks off on March 1. Park Tae-ha will be making his Pohang head coaching debut, with his predecessor, Kim Gi-dong, now in charge of FC Seoul. In addition to Kim, Pohang have also l ost a few key players over the winter, with center backs Ha Chang-rae and Alexander Grant, and forwards Kim Seung-dae and Zeca now all plying their trade elsewhere. At his prematch press conference Tuesday, Park said he was excited about coaching his first match since 2018 in China. "Throughout training camp, our players showed so much enthusiasm and determination," Park said. "We did lose many players, but the guys who have stayed put all believe in themselves." Though he hadn't been the coach at the time of Pohang's FA Cup victory over Jeonbuk last year, Park said the victory can only have a positive impact on Pohang in the AFC Champions League. "Our players say they're always confident when they go up against Jeonbuk," Park said. "I think they believe they will never lose to Jeonbuk." Jeonbuk are coming off a disappointing campaign, having finished fourth in the K League 1 -- their worst showing since 2008 -- and lost out on a chance to win their lone trophy at the FA Cup. In celebration of their 30t h anniversary this year, Jeonbuk have set out to accomplish a "treble" by winning three major trophies -- the K League 1, FA Cup and the AFC Champions League. They have bolstered their squad with signings of veteran midfielder Lee Yeong-jae and forward Tiago Orobo, who finished second in last year's scoring race with 17 for Daejeon Hana Citizen FC. Jeonbuk head coach Dan Petrescu admitted Tuesday that Pohang will be a tough opponent, despite their coaching change and roster overhaul. The Romanian coach also said he was pleased with the club's offseason signings and that his goal is to go as deep into the AFC Champions League as possible. His captain, Kim Jin-su, said Jeonbuk will be fueled by last year's failure to win any trophy. "I think the season we had last year must have hurt the pride of everyone working for this team, not to mention our supporters," Kim said. "We all hold ourselves accountable for that. But it's also a good source of motivation to do better this year. As captain, I want to instill confidence in my teammates that we can win no matter what." Also in the AFC Champions League, Ulsan HD FC will take on Ventforet Kofu of Japan in the first leg at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, at 7 p.m. Thursday. Their second leg will be in Tokyo on Feb. 21. Ulsan, winners of the past two K League 1 titles, will have a much different squad this time. They have lost two defenders, Kim Tae-hwan and Jung Seung-hyun, but also signed a handful of new faces, including two Brazilian players in forward Kelvin and midfielder Matheus Sales. Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo said Tuesday he will count on the team's leadership group to do some heavy lifting early on. "We have many new faces around, and even though we haven't had much time to train together, I think our veterans will step up and do their part," Hong said. "We've been the league champions for the past two years, and I think winning the two trophies will lay a strong foundation for us." Source: Yonhap News Agency