Jeju United entered this season having finished third in the last campaign. This earned them an automatic spot in the Asian Champions League group stage by virtue of fellow Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ disqualification because of a bribery scandal.
Jeju have are looking like a very competitive outfit following an excellent start to the season.
Their most recent match saw them claim victory over Daegu. This allowed them to leapfrog Jeonbuk and reclaim their place at the top of the league on 23 points.
Victory did not come easy as Jeju needed two goals inside of the final five minutes to secure all three points, with Kwon Soon-hyung netting the winner in the 90th minute.
As well as being top of the league. Jeju have also managed to qualify from the group stages of the Asia Champions League.
Coming into the new season, Jeju had not played in Asia’s top flight competition in five years. The last time they made it, they were eliminated in the group stage.
Jeju’s form at home in the Champions League has been questionable at best thus far, with losses to Jiangsu Suning and Adelaide United.
But, a crucial away victory against the Chinese side on matchday five, and a double over Japanese squad Gamba Osaka were enough to see Jeju through to the knockout stage of the competition for the first time in club’s history.
Goals from Chung Woon in the 29th, and Hwang Il-soo in the 66th in the final matchday victory over Osaka were more than enough to secure three points to guarantee successful passage into the next phase of the tournament.
Jeju is the lone remaining Korean team left in the competition as the other K League participants, Ulsan Hyundai, Suwon Bluewings and defending Korean champions FC Seoul, were eliminated in the group stage.
Jeju will now line up against Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in the round of 16, with the first leg of the tie to be played at Jeju Stadium in Jeju City on May 24th, with kickoff slated for three o’clock in the afternoon.
The club made a recent decision to move some of Jeju’s home matches for the month of May up north due to the World Cup Stadium in Seogwipo being one of the hosts for the U-20 FIFA World Cup, which began this past weekend and will run until June 11th.
Following the group stage, Lee Chang-min leads the club in scoring with three goals, while Magno Cruz and Marcelo Toscano have chipped in with two apiece.
Jeju United is now in unchartered territory for the organization. Their round of 16 opponents Urawa Red Diamonds did not look particularly impressive in a 1-0 defeat away to FC Seoul in a match where victory would have assured them to finish top of their group.
The Japanese side has looked dreadful on the road in this year’s tournament, losing twice in three matches thus far.
If Jeju can maintain their recent form, a win at home is a very distinct possibility, meaning that the door to progress through to the final eight could be swung wide open.
In a season where momentum has continued to build as it has progressed, there are echoes in the air which could signal special things to come. One can hope this may be the year - the year a championship comes to the island for the very first time.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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