Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors hope to ride out a bribery storm and reach the AFC Champions League final when they take a 4-1 lead into their semi-final second leg against FC Seoul.
The K-League leaders were slapped with a nine-point deduction and a 100 million won ($88,000) fine last month after one of their scouts was convicted of bribing referees.
It recalled dark days for Korean football, after a match-fixing scandal in 2011 ended with a series of jail terms, bans and fines, and one player’s alleged suicide.
But Jeonbuk will be confident of reaching their third Asian final after scorers Leonardo, Ricardo Lopes and Kim Shin-Wook combined to devastating effect in the first leg.
The winners of Wednesday’s all-Korean clash will play UAE’s Al Ain or Qatari outfit El Jaish, who will try to overturn a 3-1 deficit in their second leg on Tuesday in Doha.
“Our players have been impressive all season and I will continue to have faith in them,” said Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-Hee, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website. “We have confidence for the second leg.”
Jeonbuk won the title in 2006 and they have hit form in this year’s latter stages, smashing five past Shanghai SIPG to reach the semis before their four-goal spree against Seoul.
It leaves Seoul dangerman Adriano teetering on 12 goals for the competition, one away from equalling the record set by Guangzhou Evergrande’s Muriqui in their 2013 title run.
But the club from the Korean capital aren’t giving up hope just yet, and with home advantage they will draw on memories of some heavy wins in the group stage.
“We know that we need to score many goals to get the win,” said Seoul coach Hwang Sun-Hong. “We will have to be clinical and aggressive going forward… There is still football to be played in this tie.”
In Doha, mop-haired playmaker Omar Abdulrahman will try to lead Al Ain into the final after he was among the scorers in the UAE side’s 3-1 first-leg win.
The top-rated Abdulrahman has previously attracted interest from Manchester City, and El Jaish coach Sabri Lamouchi was in no doubt about the threat he poses to his side.
“Al Ain have, for me, absolutely the best player in Asia,” the Frenchman said, according to UAE’s The National newspaper. “He is an unbelievable player.
“I love him a lot, but it’s not only me. All coaches want a player like him. Because he fights with heart, and he is also a very nice playmaker with an amazing left foot.”
© 2016 AFP
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