Analysis: Ulsan grow in belief to sink Urawa
Saitama: Ulsan Hyundai secured their first away win in the AFC Champions League in more than two years to gain the upper hand against Urawa Red Diamonds following a 2-1 victory in the first leg of the Round of 16 on Wednesday.
Two-time champions Urawa went into the game with a reputation for being formidable at home in the knockout rounds but it was the 2012 winners Ulsan who got their game plan just right to seal an impressive victory.
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Hosts fail to make first-half dominance count
As expected when an AFC Champions League game takes place in Japan, the hosts dominated the possession, with Urawa enjoying more than 70 percent of the play in the first half.
Urawa also created plenty of chances in the opening 45 minutes, with nine attempts on goal compared to just three (below) from the visitors, and when Kenyu Sugimoto headed the 2017 winners in front it was little surprise.
But against the run of play, Ulsan proved clinical when they got the opportunity and with their only attempt on target in the first half, Joo Min-kyu leveled proceedings shortly before the interval with a well-placed header.
Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s side still could have taken a lead into the break had Yuki Muto not diverted Ryosuke Yamanaka’s excellent delivery over the bar and Urawa would live to regret letting the visitors off the hook.
Ulsan grow in confidence
The second half proved an entirely different affair, with an end-to-end game ensuing as Ulsan – with the vital away goal now in the bag – seemed more content to attack, as shown in the graphic below.
A lovely flowing move involving Kim Bo-kyung, Kim In-sung and Lee Keun-ho almost had the visitors in front on the hour, with the latter firing just wide from 20 yards, and it would serve as a warning sign to the threat Ulsan posed.
It was a mark of their confidence that with 15 minutes remaining their top scorer in the league and on the Continent, Junior Negrao, was introduced from the bench as Ulsan felt they had a winning goal within them.
But it was another substitute who stole the headlines as Hwang Il-su, who replaced goalscorer Joo midway through the half, burst into the open space with 10 minutes remaining before firing hard and low into the bottom right corner from 20 yards.
Still hope for Urawa
While defeat will have been a major disappointment for Urawa, they can take heart from the fact that they continued to create chances against a defence that had kept four clean sheets in six games prior to Wednesday.
Yamanaka was key down the left, with midfielder's 13 crosses from open play (below) the highest tally recorded in the whole of the 2019 AFC Champions League.
In the dying moments,Yamanaka threaded another superb delivery through to Koya Yuriki, only for goalkeeper Oh Seung-hoon to deny the substitute. That his good work on the flank was not rewarded will likely be among Urawa's biggest regrets.
With 18 efforts on goal, the J.League side will know they can trouble Ulsan in the second leg, although they must be more clinical and do what no away team has managed in the 2019 campaign – score at Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium.
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