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Jeonbuk's Son Jun-ho looking to sign off stellar season with AFC Champions League glory

Jeonju: On the heels of a league-cup double in the K League 1, 2020 MVP winner Son Jun-ho is seeking more success on the Continental stage with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on the hunt for a third AFC Champions League title.

Even for a team as successful as Jeonbuk, when it comes to on-field performances and results 2020 has been a banner year. A come-from-behind championship run saw them lift a fourth consecutive K League 1 title before winning a first FA Cup since 2005 to complete a memorable trophy haul.

And for midfielder Son Jun-ho it was a particularly noteworthy season as the 28-year-old was named the league's Most Valuable Player after a string of stunning showings. The Korea Republic international spoke exclusively to to reflect on the year gone and look ahead to the resumption of the 2020 AFC Champions League (East) in Doha.

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First and foremost, congratulations on a third consecutive K League 1 title and your MVP award. You finished 2020 in the top 10 in assists, interceptions and progressive passes, and led the league in defensive duels and passes to the final third. What worked so well for you in 2020?

I don’t particularly feel there was anything that worked so well for me. I play all the matches with the same mindset, trying to show everything I can offer on the pitch every season. We won the league this year and my overall performance has been highly evaluated.

To meet the standard of that assessment, I tried my best, and I feel like it really paid off through great performances and high numbers on the list.

What is it about Jeonbuk’s approach to matches that has allowed you to star on both sides of the pitch?

On the offensive end, the team allowed me to shine in the build-up stage with my passing ability. On the defensive side, I tried to cover a lot of ground to help our defenders and try to give our team an edge in the midfield, I think that paid off well.

You are part of a group well and truly putting the “Champions” in Champions League with back-to-back A-League champions Sydney FC, 2019 J1 League champions Yokohama F. Marinos, and 2018 Chinese Super League winners Shanghai SIPG. First, where do you think Jeonbuk rank among those champions?

Obviously, I put my team on the top. In my mind, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are the champions of Asia.

Secondly, do you personally thrive on the pressure of playing such big clubs?

I believe Jeonbuk are a big club. I am aware that Oscar, Hulk, and other players are star players in their own rights, and it’s a big honour for me to play against them, but playing against them makes me more motivated and focused.

How much does the K League vs J League rivalry play into things when it comes to facing a side like Yokohama?

I consider every game against a J.League team as a big test. We cannot lose, I don’t think about losing. It’s a must-win situation. At the same time, it's important to keep my cool on the pitch in an intense match like this!

Group H - MD1: Jeonbuk Hyundai FC 1-2 Yokohama F. Marinos

You’re set to face off against former teammate Ricardo Lopes, now with Shanghai SIPG, in the group stage. Are there any tricks you picked up in training with him for so many years that you will be able to utilise in Doha?

I wouldn’t say I learned any tricks from him, but obviously, Lopes is a great player. His record from his stint at Jeonbuk proves it well. Since he knows a lot about us, we too, know a lot about him and how to neutralise him.

On the note of Shanghai SIPG, does going up against international stars like Oscar and Hulk offer you the opportunity to showcase what you personally, and K League teams in general, are capable of?

Playing in the ACL always provided me a chance to play against great midfielders. I am always open to learning from these games, but I also want to play better than my opponents, and most importantly, come out on top after the final whistle. We will win as a team, not by individual efforts.

You won the 2014 Asian Games, and three straight K League titles with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, but the AFC Champions League title has remained elusive in your well decorated career. How much have you and the team targeted ACL this year?

Winning the ACL title is my goal before retiring. I hope it’s this year I make it.

Son and his Jeonbuk teammates will be in action on November 22 when they face Shanghai SIPG at Doha's Khalifa International Stadium, while the first tie of the resumed AFC Champions League (East) features Australia's Perth Glory against China PR's Shanghai Shenhua on November 18.

Photos: K League

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