South Korean soccer’s inferiority to Japan at the national team level at each age group confirms that it is just as strong in the leagues, if not stronger. And it did so from a position of strength.
K League 1’s Ulsan Hyundai, Pohang Steelers, and Incheon United are all 2-1 up after their away matches against Japan’s J-League in the 2023/24 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.
Four teams are competing in the Asian Champions League this season: Ulsan, Jeonbuk Hyundai, Pohang, and Incheon. Three of the teams, Ulsan, Pohang, and Incheon, were drawn in the same group as the J-League teams in the group stage and played Korea-Japan matches.
Ulsan was paired with the Kawasaki Frontale in Group I, while Incheon competed against the Yokohama Marinos in Group G. Pohang faced Urawa Red in Group J. Using the group stage return points, Incheon and Pohang’s away wins gave South Korea a 2-1 advantage in the all-time head-to-head record between the clubs.
In particular, Incheon and Pohang’s victories at Yokohama and Saitama stadiums, two of Japan’s soccer meccas, respectively, were a point of pride for Korean soccer.
Incheon traveled to Yokohama for the first leg of the group stage on March 19 and came away with a 4-2 victory. After taking the lead through an own goal in the eighth minute of the first half, Incheon equalized through Takuma Nishimura in the 17th minute, but regained the lead through Gerso. After conceding a goal to Ryo Miyauchi just before the end of the first half, Incheon tied the game again, but Hernandez scored in the 30th and 34th minutes of the second half to secure a two-goal victory.
Even Choi Kang-hee, the Korean coach of Shandong Taishan, who will face Incheon on the 25th, was surprised, saying, “Incheon won big against Yokohama.”
Pohang also dominated Urawa at Saitama Stadium. Pohang, who traveled to Saitama for their third group match on the 24th, showed off their K League prowess with a 2-0 clean sheet victory. Goals from Jung Jae-hee in the 22nd minute and Ko Young-joon in the fourth minute of the second half helped Pohang to a comfortable victory, especially as the team played a complete game, not allowing Urawa a single shot on target.
Based on their wins against Korea and Japan, Incheon and Pohang are well on their way to finishing first in the group. Pohang has a five-point lead over second-place Urawa, while Incheon is also three points ahead of Yokohama.
Despite Ulsan’s 0-1 loss to Kawasaki, it was a surprising result in their three games in Japan.
What makes it even more special is that Incheon and Pohang won in two of Japan’s soccer meccas.
Yokohama International Stadium was one of the venues for the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup and hosted the final between Germany and Brazil. With a capacity of 72,000, it is the largest stadium in Japan. It’s no wonder that Incheon’s victory was so significant.
Saitama Stadium 2002 is the heart of Japanese soccer. Second in size only to Yokohama Stadium, it hosted the Korea-Japan World Cup semifinal and was home to last season’s Asian Champions League winners Urawa. It is also home to the Japan national soccer team. It has the same iconic status as Seoul World Cup Stadium in South Korea.
There’s another reason why it’s good to see the clubs have the upper hand in Japan-Korea matches. In recent matches between the two countries’ national teams, South Korea has been completely outclassed. After a 1-0 win at the East Asian Cup in December 2019, South Korea suffered five straight humiliating defeats against Japan until July of this year. The 0-3 defeats in all five matches led to speculation that the gap between Japanese and Korean soccer had widened.온라인카지노
In August, the U-18 team broke the losing streak with a 1-0 victory, but the U-15 team suffered another humiliating 0-4 defeat. In their most recent meeting, in the final of the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games, South Korea won 2-1.
With two wins and six losses in eight games, the Korea-Japan series has been a hotly contested affair, but the three games in Japan have proven that the K League is no match for the J League in terms of professional soccer.
Photo courtesy of the Korea Football Association, Yonhap News Agency, X Sports News DB