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Ulsan Hyundai’s Kim hails Johnsen impact in AFC Champions League semi-final win over Vissel Kobe

Doha: Ulsan Hyundai head coach Kim Do-hoon singled out the impact of substitute Bjørn Johnsen after the Korean side prevailed 2-1 after extra-time in a thrilling 2020 AFC Champions League semi-final win over Vissel Kobe on Sunday.

The Norwegian international was introduced immediately after Ulsan fell behind to a Hotaru Yamaguhci strike, making a significant impact when he deflected in their 81st-minute equaliser, before strike partner Júnior Negrão earned and converted the match-winning penalty in the dying minutes of extra-time.

Ultimately awarded by VAR after initially being ruled out for offside, Johnsen’s goal was his fifth of the tournament, with all five coming in matches where he has appeared as a substitute, giving him an average of just under one goal for every 90 minutes of game time across his eight appearances.

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A former striker himself, Kim picked out Johnsen’s introduction as a turning point in what was the archetypal match that could have gone either way.

“After Bjørn Johnsen came in the atmosphere changed and he helped us a lot,” said Kim, who scored 30 goals for Korea Republic as a player."

Semi-final: Ulsan Hyundai FC 2-1 Vissel Kobe (AET)

“I think Vissel Kobe struggled to defend with our tall players on the box, so strategically it helped to apply pressure after Bjørn came in. Our midfielders like (Yoon) Bit-garam, (Won) Du-jae, (Sin) Jin-ho, they all ran a lot and that also helped the forwards.

“In every game we have scored two or more goals, now we have a great atmosphere so we want to enjoy all the way to the final and hope we can play well in the next game too and win," added Kim.

Ulsan’s extra-time victory means they have now prevailed in eight consecutive matches, but unlike the majority of those wins, they were made to fight tooth and nail against a Vissel Kobe side missing their captain and most experienced player, FIFA World Cup winner Andres Iniesta.

The K League runners up would have been 2-0 down had a 75th-minute goal from Daiju Sasaki not been ruled out by VAR, and they escaped several other close calls through a combination of fine goalkeeping from Jo Su-huk and a lack of composure from Vissel striker Douglas.

It was as stern a test as Ulsan have been given all tournament, but the analysis can come later according to Kim, whose first priority was to praise his players.

“Before the game, we expected it to be difficult,” he said. “But the players played well and left everything on the pitch, so I would like to say congratulations. The most important thing is that we got the result.

“How we recover now is very important. We have one game left. We have to analyse what we did right and what mistakes we made."

“To be honest, before we came here, the atmosphere and morale in our team was not that good because we lost two titles (in Korea Republic) but after we arrived here the players tried to enjoy the moment and make our own atmosphere as a team, and that’s a big reason why we’ve made this progress, so I really appreciate everyone’s effort.

“I would like to give my appreciation to all the players in the squad, even those who have been on the bench and didn’t get the chance that often. They all played their role in our team, so I hope we can finish with a great result in the end and take the title back to Korea.”

The final against Islamic Republic of Iran's Persepolis FC will be held at Al Janoub Stadium on Saturday, with Ulsan aiming to add to the sole AFC Champions League title they won in 2012.

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