Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Change Of Korea

Here's a curio for you. One of the teams in this year's World Club Championships has never even won its own domestic championship. That team is Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the Asian representatives in this year's WCC. Conspiracy theorists pay wish to ponder over the fact that Hyundai is a main FIFA sponsor, but Jeonbuk's qualification is perfectly legitimate - the result of a major surprise in the AFC Champions League. They qualified for it as a result of having won the Korean equivalent of the FA Cup and, having done that, appear to pulled off the equivalent of Charlton Athletic winning the Champions League, including knocking out the Japanese champions, Gamba Osaka, in the opening group stage. Their win in the final, against the Syrian champions Al Karama was won with a goal four minutes from the end of the second leg. Coincidentally, why don't the hosts have a team in this tournament? It would certainly increase local interest and boost ticket sales.

It has to be said that this is not even the best team in South Korea, let alone Asia. The FIFA website describes them as "tournament specialists", which, considering their record of three Korean FA Cup wins and the AFC Champions League win, seems fair enough. As a league team, though, they are somewhat less successful. They finished second from bottom of the Korean League last season, and have never finished higher than third in it. That's the beauty of cup football, though. Anyone can win it. In the case of this particular competition, though... well... not's not going to be Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

There are, as you may have already guessed, scant "star" names in the JHM team. The FIFA profile of them directs the reader towards defender Choi Jin-Cheul, who has managed two World Cups for South Korea and 65 caps, but I don't remember him standing out particularly. Those supporting the Koreans will obviously have to hope that their sum is more than their parts. They have a formidable opening match, against Mexico's Club America, and I would be highly surprised to see them in the next round after this match. Should they lose, they will play the losers of the match between between Auckland City and Al-Ahly (more on whom shortly) in a fifth and sixth place play-off. I should point out that this is fifth and sixth place in the tournament, and not to decide who the fifth and sixth best teams in the world are.


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