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Lee: Qualification achieved, Daegu now aiming for more AFC Champions League success


Tashkent: Daegu FC head coach Lee Byung-geun said his side has reason to believe they’ll have more achievements to celebrate in the 2021 AFC Champions League, after his club secured their first ever knockout stage appearance on Sunday.

With a win required to advance, the K League outfit ultimately overwhelmed debutants United City FC to win 4-0, booking a Round of 16 clash against Japan’s Nagoya Grampus in September.

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While the road to the last 16 has been navigated by a team led by the Brazilian duo of Edgar and Cesinha – both of whom starred on Sunday – Daegu made do without Kim Jae-woo, Jeong Tae-wook and Jeong Seung-wong in Tashkent, with the trio all preparing for the Tokyo Olympics.

Those players, and others who are nursing injuries, should all be back in the side ahead of the clash against Nagoya, and Lee is hopeful that Daegu can go deep into the competition.

2021 AFC Champions League: United City FC 0-4 Daegu FC

“We are currently without some players who are going to the Olympics as part of the Korean national team and also there are injuries – I can’t stress that enough,” said the head coach.

“I do think we have hope, The match in the Round of 16 against Nagoya is in September, so it’s very soon and I think if we focus on coming together as a team and recovering, we have hope.

“It’s a tournament situation and we will approach it with a level of urgency. I think if you put that together, we have a chance.”

The target of reaching the knockout stage has been achieved, but it was far from an easy three-week stint in the Uzbek capital for Daegu, who suffered not only personnel problems, but a pair of defeats to Japanese outfit Kawasaki Frontale.

Lee admitted his side had to dig deep to become the last team to book their place in the Round of 16.

“It has been a mix of good and bad,” he declared.

“As a coach it is always difficult seeing your players get injured. There was also the defeat in the first game against Kawasaki, which was important and definitely changed the atmosphere, but since then the players have never swayed away from their hopes of reaching the Round of 16 and I’m really proud of them.”

On the other end of Daegu's breakthrough was United City, whose maiden group stage campaign came to an end with a fourth defeat in six matches, with Wednesday’s breakthrough win over Beijing FC the high point of their campaign.

The Filipino side struggled to adjust to the gap in quality between the AFC Cup and the AFC Champions League, but they weren’t helped by a domestic calendar which has been at the mercy of the COVID-19 pandemic, with several players arriving in Tashkent with a severe lack of match practice.

Despite their baptism of fire at the top level, head coach Jason Withe said the club is eager to return and challenge again in 2022.

“It’s the biggest competition we can be in,” said Withe. “We want to be here again.

“We don’t think we will be in a situation where we have six games in 16 days having not played for a year. I’ve been involved in AFC competitions in the past, but the quality of this group was difficult, and we knew that the moment we saw the groups.

“It’s a learning curve. We have to go away from this tournament with lessons learned. There are things we need to improve on, and it’s not going to be a case of coming here next year and doing much better. It will be gradual.”

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