Coach Choi Kang-hee was clearly delighted after seeing his Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors side battle back from a goal down to secure a 2-1 victory over Al Ain in Saturday’s first leg of the AFC Champions League final.
The South Korean outfit looked to be in serious trouble on home soil after conceding midway through the first half, but two goals from Brazilian lynchpin Leonardo saw them turn the tables and secure a 2-1 victory ahead of next week’s second leg in Al Ain.
“In the first half our build-up play was not so good,” said Choi. “They then pressed us after half-time and the conditions were not good for our defenders as the players found it difficult to control the ball.
“Of course none of the players wanted to concede but Al Ain are a strong team. Even though we conceded one goal, we worked really hard to come back into the game and that made me very proud.”
Choi’s tactic of moving defender Choi Chul-soon away from his normal right-back position in order to keep a close eye on Al Ain’s star player Omar Abdulrahman also paid off in the end.
“I saw in the second leg of the semi-final [against El Jaish] they didn’t play [top scorer] Douglas up front,” added the coach.
“I imagined Abdulrahman to play in this position further up the field and we prepared for this, so Choi was able to block him out of the game.”
Choi’s decision to bring on veteran striker Lee Dong-gook and adopt a 4-4-2 formation after Leonardo’s stunning equaliser also paid dividends, as it was Lee’s cross that led to the match-winning penalty.
“Leonardo has spent five years here but he’s rarely been the difference in big matches,” said Choi. “He knew that and has tried to focus on it and I expect him to be the difference-maker more in the future.
“We have had some trouble with 442 this year but Lee and Kim Shin-wook are in good condition and overcame the difficulties in this match.
“We now have 90 more minutes to play but we are in a good position. It will be very hard but we’ll prepare the best we can to get through the next match.”