While home advantage is prized highly throughout Asia, few in the continent afford it greater importance than FC Seoul coach Choi Yongsoo. His side entertain last year’s runners-up Al Ahli tomorrow in the AFC Champions League quarter-final second leg and, having grabbed a precious 1-1 draw in Jeddah a month ago, the former Korea Republic international striker believes they can advance with the backing of their fans.
"We have a good winning rate at home, so we should make good use of home advantage" the 40-year-old told FIFA.com ahead of the decider at Seoul's World Cup Stadium. "Our passionate fans always provide us with strong support on home soil. We can feel their desire and will for victories. In a sense the supporters spur us to show our best and get good results."
The five-time K League winners have certainly enjoyed a proud home record in this year's continental campaign, having won two and drawn two en route to securing a third Champions League quarter-final appearance. On the local front, since their unexpected 2-3 loss to Incheon Utd this March in K League, the defending champions have gone 12 matches undefeated, including seeing off leaders Pohang Steelers by 2-0 in the latest fixture, a result which reduced the gap between them to merely three points.
The Al Ahli test marks FC Seoul's third quarter-final meeting with a team from West Asia, and history is not on their side. In their first-ever last-eight meeting with a team from the region - Umm Salal in 2009 - FC Seoul lost 3-2 away before drawing 1-1 to crash out. They reached the same stage two years later, only to lose out again at the hands of Al Ittihad by an aggregate margin of 4-2. Nonetheless, their coach is confident of consigning such statistics to the dustbin.
"In both previous quarter-finals, we lost because we made mistakes," continued Choi, who took FC Seoul to their fifth league title last season as caretaker before being promoted to the position of head coach last December. "But we shouldn't allow the history repeat itself this time. We will employ a proper game plan and play our game. We should put the past disappointment behind us. We are thirsty to win and we have great willpower. This FC Seoul are a different team from those in the past and we are aiming to mount a serious challenge for the title."
Choi's outfit certainly put in an outstanding performance in the first leg. Star striker Dejan Damjanovic put the visitors ahead after ten minutes and although the Saudis upped the tempo and equalised with nine minutes to go, FC Seoul held out for a hard-earned draw.
"Dejan is a great finisher," Choi said of the Montenegrin international, who has scored ten goals in the K League this season. "The team place great expectations upon him and he is always defendable. He can rise to the occasion and score crucial goals."
The FC Seoul coach is equally satisfied with his team’s experienced back-line, comprised by veterans Cha Duri, Kim Chiwoo and Kim Jinkyu. He said: "Our defence is excellent. In important, hard competitions like the Champions League, experience is as crucial as individual skills. We boast a host of such seasoned campaigners and they can make the difference."
Despite his confidence, Choi is all too aware of Al Ahli’s capabilities. The Jeddah giants went all the way through to the final last year only to lose out to Ulsan Hyundai. This time around, spearheaded by top-scorer Mustafa Al Bassas and Brazilian Bruno Cesar, the Saudis seem no less dangerous.
"Al Ahli have many talented players and are well organised," Choi said. "Al Bassas is an especially promising player and will be become a star for the Saudi national team in future. Bruno Cesar can control the game with his experience or kill the match with a great finish. Our players are also individually talented, though, and we can count on our good teamwork."
A goalless home draw will be enough to see FC Seoul through, but with their maiden semi-final appearance beckoning, Choi has warned his side not to take anything for granted. "No match will be easy on the Asian stage. If we maintain our good form and work-rate we may achieve our goal,” he said. “But every match to come will be harder, so we should play every match as if we are playing in the final. Only by doing that can we smile as a team.”