Analysis: how Seoul FC plan to shock Wanderers

Our man in Seoul with all the latest news and analysis as Seoul FC touch down in Sydney this morning for their second leg Asian Champions League semi-final against Western Sydney Wanderers.

Ahead of the first leg of the Asian Champions League semi-final against Western Sydney Wanderers, FC Seoul’s homepage was dominated by a cool-looking graphic of the club’s crest standing tall over a row of fallen badges, lying domino-style.

These belonged to the Asian teams -Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Central Coast Mariners, Beijing Guoan, Kawasaki Frontale and Pohang Steelers – already vanquished on Seoul’s run to within touching distance of a second successive final appearance.

Whether the Wanderers logo, hovering uncertainly, will also crash to the floor remains to be seen. The form book says, well, maybe. It’s hard to know with Seoul this season, one that domestically has been forgettable but could be redeemed by a first continental championship.

Unsurprisingly, the message from the team is one of confidence. Coach Choi Yong-soo has been painting the goalless draw from the first leg in Korea in a positive light.

“Western Sydney may think they have the advantage,” he said after a 1-1 draw last Wednesday at home to relegation strugglers Gyeongnam FC. “We also have an advantage. Mentally, we are strong.”

Mentally, maybe, physically, perhaps -the team was given the weekend off in the domestic league and arrived down under early Monday morning – but in football terms, that is much harder to say.

It shouldn’t be as, in terms of results, all is good. Go Yo-han’s equaliser against Gyeongnam preserved an unbeaten run that has now reached 13 games.

Seoul is hard to beat especially compared to a nightmarish start to the season when the players struggled to adapt to a three-man defence (the introduction of which was something of a surprise given the fact that Choi is often accused of being tactically conservative and predictable).

In terms of performances though, it is not quite as impressive. Seoul has struggled to find any consistent fluency this season and while the defence has tightened, going forward it is a different story as no goals in the last 382 minutes of the Asian Champions League suggests.

“This is an away game in which we have to score. It is not a game to play passively,” said Choi who explained that is what the Australians did in the first leg. “Western Sydney is the kind of team that if it needs one goal to win, it won’t try to hard to score more than two. It is a little defensive.”

Even so, the coach expressed his belief that the Wanderers will be more attacking at home -and his hope as such a strategy will suit the visitor.

There are fitness concerns over Spanish left-sided defender Osmar Barba. The former Thai-based star should play however and keep that solid backline in tact. Yun Il-rok is a big miss as the attacker is on Asian Games duty, during which he picked up an injury.

Mauricio Molina has had a disappointing season but the Colombian has the chance to redeem himself and perhaps find the final ball that eluded the team all season. Usually in a more central role this year, he is the closest thing the team has to a playmaker.

There is pressure on the coach. In 2010, Seoul averaged close to 30,000 yet in 2014, that figure is currently around 16,500.

Against Gyeongnam just over 4,000 were present, the lowest attendance for years. These are worrying figures for a club that prides itself on being the most professionally run in the K-League.

An indifferent season and a lack of entertainment, crucial in a very demanding market like the Korean capital, has seen fans drift away.

Winning the Asian Champions League would turn an indifferent year into something special and perhaps dispel the lingering doubts over Choi’s talents as a coach and ensure that he remains comfortable in the hotseat.

Before leaving for Australia, there was talk in the camp of invoking the ‘Esteghlal spirit’. At the same stage last season, Seoul left for a second leg in Tehran. 

Ninety thousand fans packed the Azadi Stadium yet the Koreans stood firm and picked up a 2-2 draw. It helped though that the first leg had been won 2-0.

There is no such advantage this time but still, there is confidence that Seoul can add Western Sydney Wanderers to its list of Asian victims.