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The dilemma of the inaugural season of the ACL Chuchunje, the last day of the league, and the dilemma of Korean League teams

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K리그 트로피 2023.10.18 뉴스1

K League trophies

The Korean Football League is coming to a close and the champions have already been crowned, but the four teams competing in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) are still on their toes. They're still fighting to get through the group stage.

Historically, the ACL has been run on a spring and fall schedule, just like the K League, with races starting in the spring and finishing in the fall. However, from this year, the tournament has changed to the Spring-Chinese New Year, which starts in the fall and ends in the spring, just like the UEFA Champions League (UCL). Hence the name 2023-24 ACL.

It's an unfamiliar system for the K League teams competing in the ACL: Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk Hyundai, Pohang Steelers, and Incheon United. Not only do they have to play two competitions in parallel, but they also have to adapt to two completely different cycles, starting one as the other is coming to an end.

All four teams are depleted after a long season and have suffered a number of injuries. In particular, Pohang lost Wandelsson and Oberdan, and Incheon lost key players such as Lee Myung-joo, Shin Shin-ho, and Delbridge to injury. They will need to stay focused and continue to perform well in the group stage to advance to next spring's tournament.

Incheon Mugosa of Incheon makes a header pass during the 2023-2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) Group G match between Incheon United and Shandong Taishan of China at Incheon Football Stadium in Incheon, South Korea, on October 25.

Currently, Jeonbuk, Incheon, and Ulsan are in second place in the group with two wins and one loss each (6 points), while Pohang is in first place with three wins (9 points). Eight teams can qualify for the round of 16 in ACL East Asia, including the winner of each of the five groups and the best three of the five second-place teams in each group.

While the performance of the K League teams so far hasn't been bad, the problem is that the fight for the last spot in the season and the second half of the ACL group stage will now run concurrently.

For now, Jeonbuk and Pohang will have to pull out all the stops in the grueling schedule of the FA Cup quarterfinals and final, and then play the ACL in midweek. Incheon, who also played in the FA Cup quarterfinals, will also be traveling to Shandong.

Ulsan, which has already clinched the league title, would normally be in a position to wait for the Anbangseo Trophy ceremony and look forward to next season, but with no guarantee of advancing to the ACL tournament, the team is in need of better physical and mental management of its main players.

Jeonbuk Hyundai's Hong Jeong-ho celebrates with teammates after scoring the first goal during the Asian Champions League (ACL) Group F match between Jeonbuk Hyundai and Kitchee at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, Jeonbuk, on Sept. 20.

Even after the season is over. This season's K League 1 will end on December 3. After that, the teams will go on vacation with awards ceremonies to summarize the season, but the season doesn't end for the four teams. On December 12 and 13, the final ACL group stage matches will take place. It's the last chance to secure a spot in the round of 16.

Some teams are even planning to train after the league ends, as they need to stay in shape during the cold winter months.

Given the unfamiliarity, squad management and smooth operations will be more important than ever. “It's definitely a special season,” said Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo. “It's definitely a special season, and we need to stay focused to make sure we don't miss out on the ACL that will last until next season. 19가이드03



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