Ulsan wary of new Asian heartbreak
© AFP

Ulsan Hyundai will take nothing for granted in Wednesday's AFC Champions League semi-final return leg, despite a handy lead over Bunyodkor, after a bitter exit the last time they were in this position.

After last week's 3-1 win in Tashkent, the Korea Republic side are favourites to reach their first Asian club final and set up a showdown with one of two teams from Saudi Arabia's Jeddah - two-time winners Al Ittihad, or Al Ahli.

While Ulsan haven't won in six K-League games, they are on a seven-match hot streak in Asian competition and in line to become the fourth Korean club in four years to reach the Champions League final.

Last week they came back from a goal down against Uzbek champions Bunyodkor at Jar Stadium, thanks to goals by Brazilian forward Rafinha and Korea Republic internationals Kim Shinwook and Lee Keunho.

But Kim Ho-Gon's team are unlikely to take things easy in front of their home fans after their heartbreak of 2006, when they beat Jeonbuk Motors 3-2 away but were trounced 4-1 at home by their K-League rivals in the second leg.

The current team is very different from the squad of 2006 with defensive midfielder Kim Youngsam the only survivor of that campaign.

While the 2006 team was largely inspired by the mercurial Lee Chunsoo, the current side have numerous threats with the pace of wingers Lee Keunho and Kim Seungyoung, the fine-finishing Rafinha and giant forward Kim Shinwook.

Rafinha has been a revelation since joining Ulsan in the summer from Japanese side Gamba Osaka, scoring four in their last three Champions League games including two in the 4-0 quarter-final win over Saudi giants Al Hilal.

Uzbeks look to previous Korean form
Meanwhile, Bunyodkor face the unhappy prospect of going out in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the second time in five years unless they can turn around the deficit in Ulsan.

The Uzbeks have done well in the Korean peninsula this year, beating Pohang Steelers 2-0 in the group stage and eliminating Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 1-0 in the round of 16 - and coach Mirdjalal Kasimov has not thrown in the towel yet.

"We now don't have any more chances, we will do our best in the second leg to recover," said the Uzbek legend.

"It will be a tough game in Korea but we must remember this is our chance to reach the final and we must have no regrets. We must do our best."

The winners of the tie will host the final on 10 November, with Al Ittihad most likely to join them after beating Al Ahli 1-0 in last week's first leg at their shared Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium.

Al Ittihad have lost only once in 25 competitive matches since Spaniard Raul Caneda arrived as coach in March, and are bidding for a record fourth final after winning in 2004 and 2005 and losing 2-1 to Pohang in 2009.

By contrast, their less fashionable neighbours Al Ahli are in their first Champions League semi-final. But coach Karel Jarolim is hoping they can forget the weight of history and be clinical when it counts.

"The result is for one leg only and hopefully, we will play better in our next game and get the win in front of our fans," said the Czech, after the first leg loss. "But we must be better in front of goal."