Why Seoul FC are pining for double D

Feature columnist and Seoul-based Asian football expert John Duerden assesses the Asian Champions League semi-final first leg in South Korea.

“Three hundred minutes,” said one fan clad in the red-and-black of FC Seoul after the 0-0 draw with Western Sydney Wanderers FC on Wednesday. “That’s three hundred minutes of no goals in the Asian Champions League.”

Then, came the gesture familiar to anyone who has spent time in Korea. The gentle banging of the fist on the chest, a slight shake of the head and the word “dapdaphada.”

Frustrating – that’s what it was. To be precise, it is 382 minutes since the K-League team scored in Asia but precise and the 2014 version of Seoul don’t belong in the same sentence as 36 crosses, 17 shots yet just five on target demonstrate.

Despite being in a number of good positions in the game, the Koreans never really looked like they were going to score. “Our players don’t move and have no confidence in the penalty area,” said the fan.

At least she never mentioned the double D word. But plenty do and the name of Dejan Damjanovic, the K-League’s top striker over the previous six years or so, is a common one on the back of shirts.

It must have been on the minds of many early in the game when Sergio Escudero, an honest, hard-working striker, broke free after a Wanderers defensive mix up only to shoot wide from the edge of the area.

It could well have been different if Dejan, who headed to China in December, was there.

That chance got the fans excited though there weren’t many such moments and there weren’t many fans. There was one Asian Champions League semi-final first leg played this week with around 60,000 fans packed into a beautiful stadium with a card section and atmosphere to die for.

Unfortunately, that took place in Tuesday evening in Riyadh in the clash between Al Hilal and Al Ain. In Seoul, the Suhoshin, the main supporters group behind the home goal, did their best but the atmosphere for the visit of Wanderers wasn’t quite as intimidating.

The poor turnout was expected. Korean fans are ambivalent to the delights of the Asian Champions League despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that their country is by far the most successful on the continental club scene.

Not only that, the game was overshadowed. On the same evening, the national team were beating Saudi Arabia to book a place in the knockout stage of the Asian Games just down the road in Incheon.

The women were also in action against India. At the same time, the U16 team, led by new national football hero Lee Seung-woo, was thrashing Syria 7-0 in the semi-final of that competition.

To be honest, those who got their football fix elsewhere won’t regret missing this. It was a sloppy affair. The two teams parted with the ball much easier than the touts outside the stadium got rid of tickets to those headed to the massive supermarket or cinema that are part of Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Apart from Vitor Saba, there was little guile near goals and both teams worked better without the ball than with. Although Seoul had some joy down the left, getting behind Kwabena Appiah on a number of occasions, the final ball was poor.

Australian goalkeepers have a good reputation in Korea which Ante Covic did nothing to damage and add that to a resolute defence and Seoul’s striking malaise then a goalless draw was not a surprise.

The reaction at the final whistle was telling. The Australians, who tired in the final 20 minutes, were happy, the host, who enjoyed a sustained period of pressure, less so.

Yet Seoul may be downhearted but is not out. Despite their goal-scoring problems, the team has already won in Australia this year and are tight enough at the back to know that one away goal may well be enough.

There is a feeling that a more attacking Wanderers will suit Seoul, though once again, sooner or later, this team is going to have to score.

“We can score anywhere we go and are a team that has enough experience to get the right result,” said Seoul coach Choi Yong-soo after the game.

“We had the chances to score but couldn’t take them. It was frustrating.”