ACL preview: Suwon v Victory


As Victory jet from Wellington to South Korea, Asian football expert @JohnnyDuerden hails Suwon’s 21-year-old “Special Kwon” ahead of Wednesday night’s group clash.

Things are looking up for Suwon Bluewings ahead of the visit by Melbourne Victory in Group G of the 2016 AFC Champions League. 

Whilst Victory picked up a thumping 4-1 win over Phoenix in Wellington on Saturday, on the same day in the Korea Republic, Suwon picked up its first win of 2016.

They defeated Sangju Sangmu thanks to goals from Santos and Kwon Chang-hoon.

It may have been a close-run thing at home against a newly-promoted team, but a win is a win and relieves some of the pressure that was starting to be felt on the shoulders of coach Seo Jung-won.

“After five games without a win, I did feel a burden,” said coach Seo Jung-won after the game. 

Suwon boss Seo Jung-won.

“I told my players that I wanted the start of April to be a new start. This was a really important win for us and a turning point. 

“Now we will think about Melbourne. We know that they are a good team and we will prepare as well as we can.”

Seo refused to say whether the three-man backline that he employed in the second half of Saturday’s win would be employed against the Hyundai A-League outfit, but with Lee Jung-soo, the experienced former international defender not registered for the tournament, it is unlikely.

Lee’s absence, the long-term injury to midfield dynamo Oh Jang-eun (who is now fit and was in the squad at the weekend) and the departure of some big name stars means that this new-look Suwon team is exciting but young and inexperienced.

That has been reflected so far in the AFC Champions League. 

It started with a 0-0 draw at home to Gamba Osaka, a game that the Korea Republic team did more than enough to win. 

Suwon Bluewings pose for a team photo prior to their ACL clash with Gamba Osaka.

Coach Seo was lamenting those missed opportunities the week after as the team played pretty well in China against Shanghai SIPG but lost 2-1 thanks, in part, to defensive lapses. 

That is likely to be the team’s Achilles’ heel all year as coach Seo acknowledged at the weekend after his formation switch.

The slow start in Asia didn’t stop Seo sending an even younger and more inexperienced team to Melbourne three weeks ago. Only two or three players would be considered regular starters.

This time it will be different. Kwon Chang-hoon will be there. “The Special Kwon” has been making waves for quite a while.

The attacking midfielder, hailed by Gamba Osaka coach Genta Hasegawa as one that Korea Republic can build a team around in the future, looms large.

The 21 year-old was the standout player of the AFC Under-23 Championships when he arrived injured and still scored five from midfield.

Attacking midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon will miss the clash with Victory through injury.

The versatile star often plays on the right though is happy to move inside.

He is also heading for a bigger move – to Europe, probably the Bundesliga this year.

One prominent European agent said recently that Kwon is the most exciting prospect in Asia.

Perhaps that is a little much as while there is vision, confidence and quick feet, there is still a certain lack of consistency and game-smarts with a habit of shooting when a pass would be the better option.

But these will, hopefully, come.

And if they do. Kwon will be some player and with him on the right, “assist king” Yeom Mi-hun on the left and the talented ‘Little Giant’ Santos playing behind Cho Dong-geon, Suwon will possess a much greater goal threat than three weeks ago at AAMI Park.

Yeom Ki-hun

The question will be whether the team can take the chances created and whether, in the absence of Lee Jung-soo at the back, Suwon can hold firm.

Melbourne Victory have been warned. The Suwon team that came to Australia was not the real Suwon.

That will take the pitch on Wednesday at the Big Bird Stadium with a first win of the season under its belt.

The Bluewings and their star Kwon Chang-hoon are looking to fly high in search of victory.