Tonight sees the first of four play-off matches that will decide who will join Sangju in making up the twelve team K-League Classic next season. The system, like many things in Korean football, seems to be more complex than it needs to be. There are four teams in the mix and it looks a little bit like this. Tonight Seoul E-land (Challenge 4th placed) will travel to Suwon (Challenge 3rd placed) where they play each other in a one-off 90 min match to see who has the honour of travelling to meet Daegu (Challenge 2nd placed) in another one-off match. The winner of this will then play Busan (Classic 11th placed) in a two-leg affair to decide who will be in the Classic come the start of the 2016 season. Confused? Don’t worry it’ll make less sense when you discover that E-land have to win tonight to progress as a draw will benefit home team Suwon, there will be no extra-time and penalties.
So with that made as clear as the convoluted Bailey’s based cocktail I was drinking on Saturday night let’s move on to the preview for tonight’s match.
Suwon FC v Seoul E-land (Suwon, Wed Nov 25th 19:00)
The first play-off match sees two relatively virginal teams take to the pitch, Suwon have only been in Korea’s second tier for two years while as everyone in Korea knows this is E-land’s inaugural season as a football club. For both clubs to reach the play-offs so soon in such a short span in the league is quite a feat. Other names such as Gyeongnam and Gangwon were probably considered more likely to feature but then again both have had horrendous seasons. Much of Suwon and E-land’s success this season has been built on the goal scoring prowess of their main strikers, Suwon have Japa with 19 goals while E-land have Joo Min Kyu with 23. At one point in the season it looked like there was no stopping Joo as he seemed to be scoring every time he touched the ball but a lull in the second half of the season has curbed both his goal tally and the calls for a spot in the National Team.
Above I mentioned that a draw would be enough for Suwon to make it through to the weekend face-off with Daegu, but then again in the four matches they have contested this season both teams have won twice apiece so on that record it shouldn’t be an issue tonight I guess. E-land took the first two scalps including a resounding 5-1 victory away in Suwon followed by a straightforward 2-0 home win. Since then though Suwon have shone with two victories, the most recent being revenge for that 5-1 defeat as they ran out easy 4-1 winners in Jamsil’s Olympic Stadium. On paper it looks like Suwon have the momentum but we all know that can all so often go out the window in one-off matches with such importance as this one.
Undoubtedly all eyes will be on the two men mentioned above but it could be two support acts that could separate the teams and hold the key to victory. E-land’s Brazilian striker Tarabai, a bit of a late starter you could say, has recently taken on the responsibility for the goals during Joo’s lapse in form. He is currently fifth top scorer with 17 goals which given he has only made 28 starts is a pretty sweet return. If E-land can get both their top strikers firing they could prove too much for Suwon to handle. For Suwon though they have the talents of Spanish midfielder SiSi to drive them towards victory and the holy grail of a spot at the top table. Many questioned why the little Spaniard had left the relative comfort and safety of his homeland to take up the challenge of adapting to Korean football, some even went as far as to say he had maybe pulled a “Robinho” and signed for the wrong Suwon team. He quickly put the doubters wrong and has gone about proving himself on the pitch. I recently watched him play in a rather boring 0-0 at Bucheon and although there wasn’t a whole lot of skill on show that day he was by far the standout player. If he is allowed the space to play he will cause E-land problems.
It is not an easy one to call, and if the previous meetings are anything to go by it will be an enthralling encounter. Which ever team wins will go that one step closer to giving the avid followers of the K-League another local derby next year. All that remains to be seen is whether it might be a Seoul derby or a Suwon one.