Undermanned Ulsan win AFC Champions League playoff match

SEOUL-- Severely shorthanded due to a COVID-19 outbreak and injuries, Ulsan Hyundai FC still pulled out a 3-0 victory over Port FC on Tuesday to reach the group stage in the top Asian football tournament.

Making his professional debut, a 19-year-old midfielder Choi Gi-yun opened the scoring for Ulsan in the 13th minute against the Thai outfit in their playoff match at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. Um Won-sang, who replaced Choi in the second half, doubled the lead in the 83rd minute. Leonardo, who set up Um's goal, got in on the act by converting a penalty five minutes later to round out the scoring.

Ulsan entered the match with several players sidelined with COVID-19 infections and injuries. The outbreak occurred Monday, when an unspecified number of players turned in positive results from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. There were a few other players who had caught the virus earlier.

Ulsan were so undermanned that Lee Ho, a player-coach who didn't appear in any game last year, was on the substitution list as an emergency.

With the victory at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, some 415 kilometers southeast of Seoul, Ulsan will join Kawasaki Frontale of Japan, Guangzhou FC of China and Johor Darul Ta'zim of Malaysia in Group I.

There are 10 groups of four, with clubs in the East Region paired into Groups F to J, and those in the West Region drawn into Groups A to E. The 10 group winners, plus the three-best runners-up from each region, will qualify for the knockout stage.

Ulsan won the 2020 AFC Champions League title and lost to K League rivals Pohang Steelers in the semifinals at last year's competition. As the K League 1 runners-up in 2021, Ulsan earned a spot in the qualifying playoff for this year's event. This is Ulsan's 10th appearance in the tournament.

The group stage for East Region clubs will kick off on April 15 in centralized locations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All Group I matches will be played in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, from April 15 to 30.

Source: Yonhap News Agency