|Daegu FC players celebrate after defeating the Jeju United in the K League football game at DGB Daegu Bank stadium in the southern city, Saturday. / Courtesy of K League|
By John Duerden
It is not often that Daegu FC makes international headlines but that is what happened last Tuesday. To be honest, the soccer club does not make that many headlines even in South Korea.
Times are changing. The team from one of Korea's biggest cities turned heads in Australia last week during the opening game of the 2019 Asian Champions League. It was Daegu's first-ever appearance in the tournament for which they made the long journey down to Melbourne.
Daegu won 3-1 and it was a fine performance against a team that has a lot more experience in the Asian tournament. It was also a performance that had the opposition impressed. Melbourne did not just have six previous campaigns under its belt but also boasted Keisuke Honda in the line-up. The Japanese star's salary alone is more than half Daegu's entire wage bill, a bill that is the smallest in the 12-team K League.
There is not that much time to enjoy the result as Daegu is now preparing for their first ever home game against Asian opposition on Tuesday. The visitor is perhaps the biggest club on the continent: Guangzhou Evergrande.
The Southern China Tigers were the first in the Chinese Super League to start splashing major amounts of cash. In 2011, it lifted the Chinese title and then proceeded to win the next six after that. That's not all, under 2006 World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi, Guangzhou won the 2013 Champions League and repeated that feat two years later under 2002 World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Now the man in charge is Fabio Cannavaro, Italy's captain when the team won the 2006 World Cup. His time as coach has not quite been as successful as his predecessors. Guangzhou missed out on the title in November for the first time since 2011 but there is still talent in the roster. The biggest name is that of Paulinho. The midfielder has played over 50 times for Brazil, including two World Cup appearances. After two year in China, he left for Barcelona in the summer of 2017, returning back east in August 2018. He has been perhaps the best import in Asia in recent years and fans who turn up to Daegu's new stadium may be in for a treat.
A win at home against the titan from the Middle Kingdom, the team is also full of Chinese internationals, would not only put Daegu top of Group F with six points after two games and in a great position to progress to the second round. It would show that even a K League club with the smallest budget can compete with the biggest and the best in Asia. It would show that, despite the league's problems, Korea is still more than capable of producing plenty of talent and that their long-term future is bright.