When the final whistle blew in Tokyo on Monday night, some of Jeonbuk Motors players stood still, dejection written on their faces, while others simply collapsed on the pitch. There had been little to choose between the South Korean side and Club America , but one goal decided who advanced to face Barcelona - and it was scored by the Mexicans.
However, although the dream is over, the Motors' campaign is not and, at the moment, they are preparing for a fifth-place battle against New Zealand's Auckland City . The players were given one day's rest on Tuesday to recuperate from the America 'hangover' and resumed training yesterday in Chiba rather than in Yokohama, which would have been Jeonbuk's destination had they won the first game.
If playing Barça was Jeonbuk's objective before kick-off, their new goal is to kill off the Kiwis and ensure that they are able to return home with their heads held high. However, to do so, they will first need to learn from the mistakes they made against America .
With their key players Yeom Ki-Hun and Kwon Jip ruled out with national team duty and an ankle injury respectively, coach Choi Kang-Hee did not, in truth, have many options in midfield. That said, he gambled by fielding utility player Wang Jung-Hyun in the place of Botti, and it was a gamble that backfired spectacularly, to the extend that Choi was forced to bring in the Brazilian playmaker as early as the 29th minute.
As the coach admitted after the game: "The two defenders who played in the new position on Monday, captain Kim Hyun-Su and Lim You-Hwan, couldn't adapt well to their new roles in the middle of the park." This allowed Fabiano Pereira the space to shoot at will and Salvador Cabanas to move freely on the flanks.
The result was that wingers Kim Hyeung-Bum and Chung Jung-Kwan were forced to work double to cover the space, while Botti also endured a difficult time providing ammunition to compatriot Ze Carlo, virtually isolated up front during the first half.
There is another cause for concern for coach Choi, whose squad shows a conspicuous lack of strength in depth. "You need plenty of experience to become a good player, but at the moment we have a lot of young players who are short on big-tournament experience," he said. With Lim You-Hwan injured in the first game and doubtful for the pan-Pacific affair, Choi would have to call on one of those young players.
On the up side, however, Jeonbuk will again be playing in Tokyo's National Stadium, while the New Zealanders are travelling from Toyota, where they played the opening match . Even if that hardly counts as home advantage, the 'comeback kings' from Korea Republic are keen to renew their acquaintance with the city on Friday rather than bidding a fond sayonara.
As Kim Hyeung-Bum says: "We're in the AFC Champions League again next season, and with a bit of luck, we might get to appear at the FIFA Club World Cup a second time."