"Power lasts only ten years" is a Korean proverb which suggests a giant's decline with the passage of time. Despite the wisdom it embodies, however, it seemingly fails in the case of Suwon Bluewings who, nine years after they had claimed back-to-back Asian club titles, are now well on track to return to their glory days.
The four-time K-League champions are only three matches away from winning their third continental title, having edged past Iran's Zob Ahan 3-2 on aggregate and into the last four of this year's AFC Champions League. Should they prevail against Al Sadd of Qatar over the two-legged semi-final, they will face either compatriots Jeonbuk Motors or Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad in a one-off final, with the victors to represent Asia in December's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
"It is too long since we last won a continental title," Suwon coach Yoon Sung-Hyo told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview prior to Wednesday’s first-leg meeting with Al Sadd at home. "It is time that we returned to the top in Asia and I believe our side have sufficient qualities to contend with our rivals and win."
Continental glory will also mark a maiden success since the rebirth of the competition in its current format eight years ago. Having failed in four previous attempts, including losing out to eventual winners Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 4-3 in last year's quarter-finals, Suwon have proven themselves unstoppable on the Asian scene this season, winning a group that also featured Japanese heavyweights Kashima Antlers, Sydney FC and Shanghai Shenhua, before outlasting J.League champions Nagoya Grampus 2-0 in the Round of 16.
But their narrow triumph over Zob Ahan has provided the 49-year-old Yoon with food for thought, ahead of the Al Sadd test. "We were struggling to cope with the Iranians’ different tactics in the two legs and my team didn't perform at their best,” he said.
“Al Sadd are a strong opponent and they won the Asian Club Championship in 1989. They also have an excellent coach and group of players. But still, we have a lot of Asian experience and we can overcome them as long as we keep our cool and focus on our own play.”
Yoon’s confidence is not unfounded considering the club’s star-studded roster, which features the likes of goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong and captain Yeom Ki-Hun. The latter has been a stand-out with four goals in continental competition so far this campaign. Having also racked up ten goals on the domestic front to steer his side to third place in the K-League, the 28-year-old Korea Republic international told FIFA.com he is ready to give his best against the Qataris.
“I have been in top form with Suwon since wearing the captain’s armband,” Yeom said. “I have never played against Al Sadd but I am familiar with the west Asian playing style. They possess skills and pace so we can’t underestimate our rivals.”
Suwon won their last continental laurels by defeating compatriots Anyang LG (now FC Seoul) in the 2002 Asian Club Championship final. And coach Yoon is of the view that history can be repeated. “If we meet Jeonbuk in the final and win, it will definitely be an interesting scenario,” said Yoon. “And the chances are pretty much good this time around. Having achieved this nine years ago, I believe our experiences will stand us in good stead throughout the remainder of the campaign.”