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Preview - Group I: Daegu FC urged to create AFC Champions League history against United City

Tashkent: Lee Byung-geun has urged his players to seize the moment and become the first Daegu FC side to qualify for the AFC Champions League knockout stage when they face United City FC on Sunday.

With nine points from five matches, Daegu now have a clear picture of what is required to advance to the last 16 for the first time, with a win to guarantee their progression, while a draw or defeat will bring their campaign to an abrupt end.

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Once a player at Daegu FC in the mid-2000s, Lee knows better than most the path taken by the club in their bid to become a force in Korea Republic and now, Asia.

They spent three years in the second division of domestic football from 2014 to 2016, but a Korean FA Cup win in 2018 led to an AFC Champions League debut the following year, with qualification for this year’s knockout stage, if completed, to seal a new level of achievement for the club.

The head coach is in no doubt regarding the importance of Sunday’s match, declaring that his club is on the verge of a watershed moment.

“To reach the knockout stage of this tournament would be a big deal and a big milestone,” he said. “We all think about that. As a player and a coach, I think it is a big opportunity. It will test our potential to see how far we can go. In future the players and fans will hold it in their hearts as an experience.

“If we look back as a group in 10 in or 20 years, it will be a historic moment for the team. The players will remember it after they retire, and it will be a moment of pride for the team and for every individual player.

“We are mentally and physically tired, but we are eager to win. We are extremely motivated. We know we have to win this match. It will be a historic moment for Daegu FC if we go through the group stage because we have never done that.”

2021 AFC Champions League: Daegu FC 7-0 United City FC

The weight of history may ordinarily sit heavily on Daegu’s shoulders ahead of a match with such high stakes, but they will no doubt be buoyed by the fact that they cruised to a 7-0 win over the same opponents less than two weeks ago.

Plenty of football has been played since then, and while Lee is happy to stick with the approach that produced seven goals on Matchday Two, he admitted he may need to make adjustments based on his team’s condition.

“It is a challenge for us to change strategies at this point, so it will be a bit similar to how we played the first time against United City,” declared Lee.

“In the first game we used a lot of pressing. We might use the strategy we used in the first game, but we are still assessing that with our coaching staff.

“I do believe that (United City) will prepare a lot more, because of how they lost to us, so we need to do the same. It depends on how well our players prepare individually. It is not just about skills, but also our mental and physical state.

“It will be tough, but I think they can overcome it.”

While much of the focus is on Daegu’s bid to advance to the last 16, United City will be looking to build on the 3-2 victory over Beijing FC, which made them the first Filipino club to win a match in the AFC Champions League group stage.

Like several of the debutant clubs in this competition, Jason Withe’s side have had their share of difficult days – including an 8-0 defeat to Kawasaki Frontale – but their tally of four points from five matches is something to build on, and boosting that number to seven would rightly be viewed as a triumph.

United City’s Mark Hartmann may well have done enough to be promoted to the starting lineup, after the forward scored twice and played a role in another goal as United came from 2-0 down to beat Beijing on Thursday.

United City FC v Daegu FC (KOR)
Venue: Bunyodkor Stadium, Tashkent
Kick-off: 17:00 hours (UTC+5)

*Poll ends at 20:00 hours (UTC+8) on July 11.

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