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Park eyes AFC Champions League challenge in bid to restore Suwon Samsung Bluewings' glory days


Suwon: Suwon Samsung Bluewings head coach Park Kun-ha is hoping to channel the philosophy of legendary coach Kim Ho as the two-time Asian champions resume their challenge for the 2020 AFC Champions League in Qatar next week.

The K League side are currently bottom of Group G following their first two games earlier in the year, when Suwon lost to both Japan’s Vissel Kobe and Johor Darul Ta’zim from Malaysia prior to the suspension of the competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both of those losses occurred during the tenure of former coach Lee Lim-saeng, who was fired in July as Suwon’s disappointing performances in the K League prompted the club to make a change.

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Now Park, who was a key member in the Suwon teams that won back-to-back Asian Club Championship titles in 2001 and 2002, is looking to oversee a turnaround in fortunes for the three-time Korea Republic champions.

“Kim Ho, who was the first head coach of Suwon, often said to us: ‘If we want to remain champions, we must try three times harder than our rivals,’” Park told the-AFC.com.

“We are no longer champions of Asia. We are only challengers, but I hope that we can put up a strong struggle and unite to regain our reputation.”

Park was a vital part of the Suwon side that, under Kim, became one of the dominant forces within Asian football at the turn of the millennium. In an 11-season career with the club, he won the Asian Club Championship in 2001 and 2002 as well as three K League titles and the Korean FA Cup in 2002.

Suwon also won the Asian Super Cup in 2001 and 2002, having previously also finished as runners-up to Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr in the final of the Asian Cup Winners’ Cup in a remarkable run that saw them challenging the likes of Japan’s Jubilo Iwata and Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia for the position of supremacy within the Asian game.

Park (pictured below, second left) was a key component in that Suwon side and during his career he played more than 300 times for the club either side of a short stint in Japan with Kashiwa Reysol, working under legendary figures such as Kim and Cha Bum-kun.

The influence of Kim, in particular, has been significant for Park. It was under the veteran coach, who led Korea Republic at the Finals of the 1994 FIFA World Cup before leading the newly formed Suwon club to the bulk of their titles.

“I vividly remember those times,” says Park of Suwon’s golden era. “I scored the tie-breaking goal against Pirouzi in the 2001 Asian Club Championship semi-final and, finally, we were crowned champions after victory over Jubilo in the final.

“We defeated our K League arch rivals Anyang (now FC Seoul) in the 2002 Asian Club Championship final. We were the undisputed champions of Asia.”

Those days, however, are a distant memory for Suwon and Park is now charged with restoring the glory days to a club that has fallen some way short of the previous heights.

Suwon finished eighth in the recently-concluded K League campaign and also missed out on the Korean FA Cup and those results mean Suwon, who qualified for this year’s competition by winning the domestic knockout competition last year, have not yet qualified for next year’s AFC Champions League.

Group G - MD2: Suwon Samsung Bluewings 0-1 Vissel Kobe

Park, though, is focusing his energies on their next game, against two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande on November 22.

“We’ll face Guangzhou and that could be the most critical match to qualify for the Round of 16,” says Park. “We must prepare and focus on that first match against Guangzhou.

“We’ll challenge to achieve the best results we can. Moreover, I hope to check on the young players’ possibilities for next season.”

Park is hoping he can make a difference in the long-term to the situation at the club, but for now he is focusing on fixing what he can to ensure Suwon perform as well as possible over the coming weeks.

“I decided to make two small changes because we don’t have much time,” he said. “First, I ordered the players to revive the spirit of Suwon. That means we have to be hard to deal with for our opponents.

“Secondly, I have corrected our tactics in order to be more efficient with our pressure. Our players have been able to carry out my instructions well.”

Photos: Suwon Samsung Bluewings, AFP

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