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By Peter Rutherford
SEOUL, Dec 7 (Reuters) - From the despair of losing the Korean league title on the final day of the season to the joy of being crowned Asian champions, Jeonbuk Motors’ rollercoaster 2016 comes to an end at the Club World Cup with the chance to go out on the ultimate high.
Jeonbuk were short odds to win the K League for a third straight season but after being hit with a nine-point deduction for a bribery scandal they were denied the championship in a winner-take-all clash with a resurgent Seoul FC on Nov. 6.
The fact that they were able to rouse themselves from that disappointment just a couple of weeks later to beat Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates over two legs in the Asian Champions League (ACL) final speaks volumes for Jeonbuk’s resilience.
The team from Jeonju, some 240 kilometres south of Seoul, meet Mexico’s Club America in their opening game on Sunday, with a glamour semi-final against Spain’s Real Madrid the reward for the winners.
No Asian club has ever reached the final of the tournament and Motors forward Lee Dong-guk said it was important to deliver a good performance for the region.
“Since we represent Asia, we want to compete against the best clubs in the world with pride,” Yonhap news quoted Lee as saying after their ACL victory.
”Everybody expects us to compete against the world’s best team Real Madrid, but we must focus on the first match.
“Club America are a strong team and compare to the teams that we faced before; they show a different style of football so it’s not easy.”
Jeonbuk’s previous appearance at the Club World Cup came in 2006, when they beat Auckland City 3-0 in their opener but were beaten in the quarter-finals, by Club America.
Goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae was part of the Jeonbuk squad that year and saw first hand how dangerous the Mexican side can be.
“I remember when we met them 10 years ago, they played fast football with lots of finesse,” said Kwoun, who will sit out the Club World Cup to have surgery on a shin injury.
“We lost 1-0, it could have been more.” (Editing by Nick Mulvenney)