Can Incheon United continue its unbeaten and all-conquering record in the K League Playoffs (PO) as it heads to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) for the first time since its inception in 2003?
Incheon, coached by Cho Sung-hwan, finished fourth in the K League 1 last season to earn a spot in the 2023-24 ACL PO, and will look to complete the group stage of the competition when they host Hai Phong FC (Vietnam) at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 22 at the Incheon Football Stadium.
It has been since 2015 that a K League team has made it to the ACL PO stage, with no team advancing past the PO until 2022.
It started with FC Seoul’s 7-0 win over Hanoi (Vietnam) in 2015, followed by Pohang Steelers’ 3-0 win over Hanoi in 2016, Suwon Samsung’s 5-1 win over Tan Hoa (Vietnam) in 2018, Ulsan’s 5-1 win over Perak (Malaysia) in 2019, and Seoul’s 4-1 win over Kedah (Malaysia) in 2020.
Most of the wins have been lopsided, but there have been some close calls. In 2017, Ulsan narrowly qualified after a 1-1 draw against Kitchee (Hong Kong), who were thought to have the objective power advantage, winning 4TK3 on penalties.
In 2021 and 2022, two teams were assigned 2+2 quarters and went through the PO, and in 2022, Ulsan Hyundai swept Port FC (Thailand) 3-0, but Daegu FC narrowly missed out 3TK2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Buriram United (Thailand).
In 2021, Pohang and Daegu were supposed to play the PO, but due to teams withdrawing in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), they joined the group stage immediately.
It’s a history that should give Incheon confidence, but it’s also a burden.
Incheon head coach Cho Sung-hwan said, “We want to continue the good momentum that K League teams have never been eliminated, and instead of the stigma of being the first team to be eliminated, we want to show that we can advance from our first ACL appearance to the main draw.”
Objectively, Incheon should be favored, but Southeast Asian clubs have been on the rise in recent years, and the PO is a rite of passage to the group stage.
“We’re not letting our guard down at all. We will work hard to prepare and bring results to the table,” he said. To analyze the strength of his PO opponents, Cho took time out of his busy season to watch the second qualifier between Hai Phong and Rangers (Hong Kong).
Hai Phong were runners-up in the Vietnamese V-League last season and feature Vietnam international midfielder Truong, who previously played for Incheon, as a key player. They have a fast attack led by Ugandan striker Joseph Mpende. 온라인바카라
If Incheon defeats Hai Phong to advance, the 2023-24 ACL will feature four K League teams – Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk Hyundai, Pohang Steelers and Incheon.