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Ulsan clinches early K League 1 title, will play in sub-championship mode from now on

After clinching the early K League 1 title, Ulsan Hyundai now has its sights set on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) trophy. The club’s league schedule has been freed up to focus on the ACL.

Ulsan will face Johor Darul Taqzim (Malaysia) away from home next month on July 7 in the fourth match of Group I of the 2023-2024 ACL. The away match will be against a team that crashed out of the group stage last season, but it shouldn’t be too daunting. They won their home game against 토토사이트 Daegu FC on Sept. 29 with three league games remaining, giving them time to recover physically.

It’s also a good thing for Ulsan that they won’t have to worry about rotation and will be able to go into the game at 100% strength. Ulsan will face the league’s second-place Pohang Steelers on March 12, five days after their ACL match against Johor. If they hadn’t clinched an early victory, they would have had to go all out for this match.

Ulsan travels to Malaysia with a lighter footing, having erased any bad memories of Johor from their past. Ulsan’s 3-1 victory over Johor in the third leg of their ACL group stage match on Nov. 24 set the stage for an early win in the league after going winless in their previous four official matches (two draws and two losses).

Ulsan has been strong in the ACL, winning two unbeaten titles in 2012 (10 wins, 2 draws) and 2020 (9 wins, 1 draw), especially in 2020, when they finished as runners-up in the K League and FA Cup. In 2021, they reached the quarterfinals of the competition.

This season, Ulsan’s chances of winning the tournament unbeaten were cut short by a group stage away loss to Kawasaki Frontale (Japan) on March 3. Ulsan is second in the group with six points (two wins and one loss), behind Kawasaki (nine points). However, the team plans to use the momentum from clinching the early K League 1 title to challenge for the ACL title again. Ulsan veteran Lee Chung-yong said at a press conference after the win over Daegu the previous day, “We will make great efforts with the players to pass the ACL group stage. I think we will be able to train and play in a more enjoyable atmosphere by winning the K League 1 title,” he said.

There are other reasons why Ulsan is aiming for the ACL trophy. Ulsan lost their FA Cup match against Jeju United in June and were eliminated in the quarterfinals. The loss was even more painful as it came after a bloody penalty shootout. However, winning the ACL would make up for it.

Especially this season, the ACL has become a high-profile tournament that has attracted international stars. Saudi Arabia, with its deep pockets, has brought in the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nasr), Neymar (Al Hilal), and Karim Benzema (Al Ittihad), all of whom have been seen in the UEFA Champions League. If Ulsan can lift the ACL trophy against these star-studded teams, it could go down as one of the greatest achievements in the club’s history.

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