You are in / Article

Ulsan Hyundai's Record Breakers: A look back at an unprecedented 12-game AFC Champions League winning run


Kuala Lumpur: Ulsan Hyundai's 3-0 victory over Kaya FC-Iloilo on Friday saw the holders claim a record 12th AFC Champions League win in a row as the class of 2020-21 beat the side's own previous best of 11, set back in 2012-2014.

The hot streak began in November 2020 and shows no sign of slowing up just yet as the Horang-i boast three wins from three in Group F of the 2021 edition, and they will be confident they can maintain a perfect record in a group that they are strong favourites to win.

In what is an unprecedented run that started under Kim Do-hoon and is being carried on by Hong Myung-bo, the-AFC.com looks back on Ulsan's superb achievement.

See also :

The Triumphant Predecessors

Back in 2012, an Ulsan side that had only appeared in two previous editions went on a surge after picking up five points from their opening three games. They won their remaining three group matches to advance to the knockout round with minimal fuss.

A side that included the likes of Kwak Tae-hwi, Kim Shin-wook, Lee Keun-ho and Rafinha edged Kashiwa Reysol in the Round of 16 then stormed past Al Hilal 5-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals before Bunyodkor were dispatched in the semi-finals.

Kwak, Rafinha and Kim Seung-yong were on the scoresheet as Ulsan eased to a 3-0 victory over Al Ahli Jeddah in front of their home fans at Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium in the final. Continental champions for the first time, and with a record nine wins in a row.

Ulsan did not qualify for the 2013 edition but returned in 2014, when they won their opening two group games – beating Western Sydney Wanderers and Kawasaki Frontale – before their run was ended at 11 by China PR's Guizhou Renhe and they ultimately exited at the group stage.


Bubble Brilliance

Since that glorious night in 2012 Ulsan had never come close to reaching another final, with a pair of Round of 16 finishes the best they had managed. In truth, they would have unlikely featured among most people's favourites for the 2020 edition but, after drawing their opening game against Tokyo in February, they would produce something special.

Amid the global chaos caused by COVID-19, the 2020 AFC Champions League (East) was suspended before finally getting underway in Qatar's 'bio bubble' in mid-November. An Ulsan team that had recently missed out on the K League 1 and FA Cup titles began strongly as goals from Yoon Bit-garam and Kim Kee-hee saw them past Shanghai Shenhua 3-1.

Ulsan twice left it late to secure back-to-back wins over Australia's Perth Glory, coming from a goal down in the 89th minute to win 2-1 thanks to Kim In-sung and Junior Negrao, before the pair scored in the closing moments again (87th and 89th minutes) in the return meeting for a 2-0 victory.

A goal down against Tokyo, Yoon curled home an exquisite free-kick just before half-time and then a late winner as Ulsan sealed their place in the next round. A much-changed side then proved too good for Shenhua as a 4-1 win made it five wins in a row for Kim Do-hoon's team.


Junior & Johnsen Lead The Way

With home and away knockout round matches switched to a single-game format in 2020, Ulsan were faced with a run of four matches to win the tournament and, coincidently, if they were to win them all they would equal the nine-game winning run achieved by the 2012 side.

Goalless against Melbourne Victory at half-time, Norwegian Bjorn Johnsen bagged a brace and Won Du-jae netted his first goal on the continent as Ulsan sailed into the last eight, before the prolific Negrao fired home once from the spot and then from distance to seal a 2-0 victory against Beijing FC and a place in the semi-finals.

Quarter-final: Ulsan Hyundai FC 2-0 Beijing FC

While talk of nine in a row was intensifying, Vissel Kobe had other ideas as the J1 League side opened the scoring early in the second half of the semi-final to hand Ulsan their biggest test yet. And it was one they responded to.

With 10 minutes remaining Yoon's effort was deflected into the back of the net by Johnsen, who was credited with the goal, then with just two minutes remaining in extra time Junior was upended in the box. The referee pointed to the spot and the Brazilian promptly dispatched to confirm a return to the final.


One Last Step

As had been the case since 2014, East met West in the showpiece event as Ulsan were faced with Islamic Republic of Iran giants Persepolis FC, who were looking to make up for the heartache of losing the 2018 final. Not for the first time, the K League 1 side fell behind, Mehdi Abdi Qara angling the ball into the bottom corner as half-time approached.

But, as they had done each time before, Ulsan responded, and they did so before the half-time whistle. Just seconds later Yoon was adjudged to have been fouled in the box and, after Junior had seen his initial spot-kick saved, he fired home the rebound as the sides went in level.

Final: Persepolis FC 1-2 Ulsan Hyundai FC

Seven minutes after the interval, a handball in the box saw Ulsan awarded a second penalty and this time there would be no mistake as the Brazilian confidently dispatched his seventh of the campaign and what turned out to be the tournament-winning goal.

For Ulsan, the victory saw them crowned kings of Asia for a second time, while their ninth successive win equaled the single-tournament record that they achieved in 2012 and Qatar's Al Duhail had equaled in 2018.


The Record Breakers

Under new head coach Hong Myung-bo, Ulsan took to Bangkok for the 2021 tournament after being drawn into a group with a distinctly ASEAN feel to it as a trio of debutants in Thailand's BG Pathum United, Vietnam's Viettel and Filipino side Kaya FC-Iloilo made their tournament bows.

With the likes of Junior, Johnsen and Lee departed for pastures new, and with several key players on Olympic duty, Ulsan were made to work for their opening-day victory over Viettel as one of their new arrivals, Austrian Lukas Hinterseer, netted in added time to seal a 1-0 win and extend the run to 10.

Back in the groove, there would be few such problems against BG Pathum as Kim Min-jun and Hinterseer scored first-half goals in a 2-0 victory before Friday's 3-0 defeat of Kaya FC.

Now with 12 successive wins under their belt and what they would consider three winnable games to come, Ulsan have the opportunity to stretch their run further. The class of 2020-21 have already achieved great things, but there may yet be more to come.

Recommended Stories :