A Trip To Suwon – A Birthday, A Tenor and Some VAR

 

A Trip to Suwon : A Birthday, A Tenor and Some VAR

 

When faced with the task of getting the missus a birthday present that she’ll remember for a year some men think of bling, pefumes or hopping on a plane. For me I plumped for a bus ride down to Suwon and taking her to Suwon Bluewings v Ulsan Hyundai….and they say that romance is dead. In fairness she is something of a closet Bluewings fan and there really are only so many Seongnam matches that you can put someone through before they crack. And so it was then that we gave an afternoon of eating desserts in a coffee shop the cold shoulder and headed off to watch the ‘top six’ clash.

 

 

The day started, as so many trips to Suwon do, with a mad dash to Sadang Stn to get the Express bus to The Big Bird. You’d think that after years of making the same journey I would have stopped being surprised by the time it takes to navigate the sprawling underground collection of pop-up stores and hiking ajossis that is Sadang. The bus was caught on time and obviously the bus driver was a Bluewings fan as he drove like a man with a promise of beer and the game on TV in a local Hof. Some 30 mins later we successfully secured tickets and a pack of Cass and were plumped outside The Big Bird Cafe soaking up some October sun and waiting on the match.

The Big Bird Cafe….the highlight of any Suwon trip!

There are fewer better stadiums to be in Korea than The Big Bird and when you throw in some autumn sunshine it really is a fantastic place to watch football. We were a little late in getting in to the ground due to a new ‘bag-search’ being implemented, I can only imagine that this is due to the recent bottle-throwing exploits of some disgruntled Suwon-istas at the recent ‘Supermatch’. One of the best things about the K-League is the ability to have a cold beer while watching your heroes, or villains, and it will be a shame if this is affected going forward.

The game started with both teams looking like they were “up for it” and chances were created at both ends as both teams had so much to play for. Suwon knowing that rivals Seoul were snapping at their ankles for the last ACL place and Ulsan still with a hopeful eye on league leaders Jeonbuk. The match is also, almost certainly, going to be the FA Cup final clash, Ulsan already booking their place after defeating Mokpo and Suwon facing Busan in the other semi-final. The game was being played at a pretty fast pace and there was a feeling among the fans that it was more a case of when not if the deadlock would be broken. It didn’t take long for those feelings to become reality and it would be a rather unfortunate Lee Young Jae who would open the scoring as he slid the ball into his own net after a harmless Park Ki Dong shot ricocheted off the foot of Richard and into his path. As if the blunder wasn’t bad enough he then had to endure ‘OG’ next to his name on both the giant screens for the rest of the 90 mins.

The first half also provided me with my first live experience of VAR as play was halted just before half-time although quite why it was paused escaped me as the action had taken place on the far touchline in the middle of the pitch. It seemed needlessly unnecessary to me, although it would be put to proper use later.

It was a beautiful day down in Suwon.

After a pretty decent first half in the sun things took a little turn for the surreal as Britain’s Got Talent winner and tenor Paul Potts graced the field to give us a rousing rendition of Nessun Dorma. He had actually taken the ceremonial pre-match kick-off which I missed due to having to queue to heat a rather hastily purchased hot-dog. He came out dressed in a Suwon shirt and preceded to give us a rather rehearsed “Suwon Fighting!” before breaking into song. To be fair the boy can carry a tune and although he didn’t exactly have the crowd locking arms and humming along it was a powerful rendition. After singing he toured the pitch (well the Suwon ends) and kicked several match ball into the crowd before exiting the field and no doubt necking a cold Cass on the way back to his hotel.

Paul Potts makes an appearance at HT

The second half started much like the first with both teams active but there was a definite spring in the Bluewings step, they are undoubtedly a different team with Johnathan back and they were now playing with a belief and an air of confidence that has been missing of late.  Speaking of “missing” there was of course no starting slot for Matt Jurman as the big Aussie was serving a two game ban for making a “gesture” towards Jeonbuk’s Lee Dong Gook in a previous match. At the start of the 2nd half the Bluewings “ultras” unveiled a message of support for him which roughly read “Matthew we are with you”. He has become something of a cult hero this year and will unfortunately miss ‘The Supermatch’ before returning to the starting lineup again.

The Suwon fans with a message of support for Matt Jurman

As both teams continued to search for the goal that would change their afternoon’s fortunes the ball broke to Johnathan who sprinted into the box and just as he was getting ready to pull the trigger was brought down. It looked a clear-cut penalty from where I was sitting, exactly level with the tackle, but it was waved away by the referee who implied the Ulsan defender got the ball. That call was directed to VAR and after a brief review the penalty was awarded and duly converted by the talismanic Johnathan who got a yellow card for his shirtless celebrations, I personally would have given him a yellow for flapping around with his top like Mario Ballotelli with a training bib.

Time for another VAR interruption!

With Suwon 2-0 up they were able to sit back and soak up the Ulsan pressure and even though Shin Hwa Yong was called into action a couple of times it was a comfortable victory in the end for the hosts. Things could have been different of course had Daniel Subotic not hit the post when clean through on Shin and he really should have burst the net instead of trying to place it in the corner. There was still time for Richard to flash a free header past the post as the visitors began to run out of ideas and the Bluewings fans erupted into a rather ironic chant of “Goodbye” (a play I imagine on the famous Ulsan chant).

 

The Suwon players take the salutes of their fans.

After the full time whistle we walked round to the North stand and watched as the Bluewings fans broke into a celebratory rendition of Despatchio to hail their heroes and a huge 3pts. For us all that remained was the bus back to Seoul and for me to start planning which game to take the wife to next year….

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The full highlights can be found here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbQRs0bROaU&t=121s

 

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Korean Groundhopping – Jeju v Seoul, Seongnam v Jeonbuk

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Splashing in the sea at Jeju and diving at Tancheon

From the beaches of Jeju to the slopes of Tancheon this trip saw me take planes, trains, expensive taxis and one rather excitable bus driver all in the name of the beautiful game that is the K-League. My first trip to Jeju United on Saturday and a huge match against the league leaders for Seongnam on Sunday lay await on what would surely be an epic weekend of football.

First up was a short flight to the ‘Korean Hawaii’ that is Jeju Island.

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Jeju United v FC Seoul – Saturday August 29th 19:00 

The morning started with me rising from my bed around 7am much like something out of The Walking Dead, the previous night’s drinking shenanigans still coursing through my veins. My friend from the US who had been staying with me for a week was flying out that day too so luckily between us we managed to navigate our way to Seoul Station and the Airport Express Train. I arrived at Gimpo Airport weighing up whether a beer or a coffee would be best to ‘straighten’ me up, thankfully I took the safe option of a Zoo Coffee and settled on a balcony awaiting my flight. I was flying with Jeju Air, the Korean equivalent of all the bad parts of EasyJet and Ryanair combined into one airline. From delayed flights and cramped seats to uncomfortably whining engines noises they had everything you could hope for in a ‘no-frills’ airline.

Once I had landed, and had performed an almost papal-esque blessing of the ground, I was soon on the shuttle bus heading out to the Hyatt beach resort. It wasn’t long before I was being whisked past palm trees and mountains, farms and a rather strange dinosaur park. The flight to Jeju takes about one hour and it really is amazing to think that this ‘paradise’ is so close to the hustle and bustle of Seoul. It took about 30 mins to get to the resort from the airport where I met up with the FC Seoul fans I was going to the game with. I was to be an honory (I think) member of the Diablos for the day, the Diablos being the main foreign contingent that follows Seoul. A quick but excellent lunch and then it was off to the beach for some beer and sports. The sports consisted of throwing a ball around, the English guys playing cricket and me drinking. A fine time was had indeed. I am in actual fact terrified of the sea but even I was coaxed into the water at one point. We spent a few hours on the beach before heading to the stadium to take in the match.

The Diablos mark their turf!
The Diablos mark their turf! Photo courtesy of Kelly Qiu

It was now time to take in the main event and having been reliably informed by the head Diablo himself, Paul, that Jeju had in fact never beaten FC Seoul in the league it was surely going to be more of the same tonight. The Jeju World Cup Stadium is quite a smart looking stadium, it follows the design idea of ‘roofs are optional’ but it is still a reasonably good place to watch, if not enjoy, football. The inclusion of a home-ware store and a place to try on traditional Korean clothing add to the ambiance.

One of the Diablos tries on some traditional wear. Photo courtesy of Gareth Taylor
One of the Diablos tries on some traditional wear. Photo courtesy of Gareth Taylor

 

The match itself was a rather strange affair, it started with a lot of promise but then quickly descended into something akin to The Three Stooges meets Roy of the Rovers. Both teams started reasonably well with Jeju probably just shading the early exchanges. The first goal came around the 40 min mark and it was a combination of shocking defending plus a wonder-strike. Jeju got a corner which was poorly cleared out to the right wing, the resulting cross was again poorly cleared by Osmar as he headed straight to Yoon Bit Garam. Even at this point it didn’t look like a dangerous situation but enter Cha Du Ri in the role of Moe. As Yoon picked up the ball Cha charged at him then inexplicably turned his back on him allowing Yoon a clear shot at goal. He let loose a strike from maybe 25 yards and it sailed majestically into the top corner beyond Yoo Sang Hoon. It was a sweet strike from a player who often looked like an extra from Dream Team in his Seongnam days.  1-0 Jeju and the deadlock broken.

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The second half started and everyone among the Seoul faithful were eagerly awaiting the barrage of attacks that their heroes would undoubtedly rain down on the Jeju goal, well everyone that was apart from the Diablo who’s afternoon beers had persuaded him to take a lengthy nap. The beginning was similar to the first half with both teams having chances then in the 55th minute came FC Seoul’s equalizer. The ball broke to Adriano in the box who was nudged by a Jeju defender and so naturally he went down like he’d been shot. In fairness there was contact but as is so often the case the desire to go for a penalty outweighed that of trying to score. Adriano ‘dusted himself down’ and after what seemed like the longest time he sent Kim the wrong way and it was 1-1.It wasn’t a powerful shot but it was perfectly placed and it has to be said that Adriano has been in good form since joining Seoul and is beginning to look like the player who shot Daejeon to the Challenge title last year.

 

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At 1-1 you really got the feeling that Seoul were going to go on to win it but then that was before Larry and Curly made their long awaited cameo appearances. If the first Jeju goal had comical defending what was to come was farcical. Song Jin Hyung harmlessly headed the ball over the halfway line towards the Seoul half where Fernando Caranga was loitering offside, Caranga kept running back thus leaving Kim Jin Kyu (Larry) with the simple task of knocking the ball back to Yoo (Curly). Unfortunately this seemed to be all too much for him to compute and he dithered allowing Song to speed towards the ball. Seeing Song running towards the ball Yoo did the only thing a crazed goalkeeper would do and charged out of his box ala Fabian Barthez. This left Song with the simple task of knocking the ball into the empty net and viola 2-1 Jeju. The Jeju bench, coaching staff, tea ladies and convenience stores clerks all ran on the pitch to celebrate the goal which I think showed just how much a long awaited victory over Seoul meant to them.

Seoul poured men forward looking for a second equalizer to keep that amazing undefeated record intact but unfortunately to no avail. They came close with a couple of efforts but the game eventually petered out and the Suhoshin were left to make the long travels back to Seoul thinking about what might have been. The Diablos contingent headed for the relative comfort of a Galbi restaurant before heading back to our pension and the final rounds of beer.

* The last time Jeju defeated Seoul in the league they were called Bucheon and Seoul were called Anyang, although we don’t really talk about that much these parts of the world. A small aside the number 1 song in the UK at that time was ‘The Tide is High’ by Atomic Kitten which reminds me always bring two pair of shorts to the beach.

After the disappointment in Jeju it was time to wake up, shake off the cobwebs (quite literally) and head back to Seoul before making the trip to Yatap Station and Fortress Tancheon.

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Seongnam v Jeonbuk – Sunday August 30th 17:00

Seongnam’s form this season has taken even the most optimistic of their fans by surprise and this has never been more evident than the fact they went into this match not only hoping to further strengthen their chances of winning an ACL spot but also with some lofty dreams of maybe catching the league leaders. The last time the two teams had met it was one of the most one-sided matches I’ve seen this season as Seongnam won 2-1 but in reality it could have and should have been a much larger margin. A bumper crowd of 12187 had turned out for the match which has got to be one of Seongnam’s largest non-ACL attendances for a while.

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The game started much as you would expect with Jeonbuk on the front foot. The first five mins or so it looked like Seongnam could be on the end of a humbling as they seemed to struggle with the pace of the game. They quickly adjusted though and it wasn’t long before they appeared in total control, limiting Jenobuk to hopeful long balls. Quite how Seongnam never took the lead in the first 20 mins was a mystery as first Hwang Uijo then Reina contrived to miss when it seemed easier to score. The first contentious issue arose on about 20 mins when Hwang Uijo looked to have been fouled in the box but unfortunately the referee waved away the frantic claims of the men in black. Hwang does have a reputation of going down easier than one of Ronda Rousey’s opponents but on this occasion it did look like there had been enough contact made. If the referee had got on the wrong side of the Seongnam fans with this he was about to make things a whole lot worse…..

A cross into the Seongnam box was poorly cleared by the defence and Lee Dong Gook ran to try and get the ball, as he did so Kim Do Heon came across to clear. Do Heon swung at the ball and Lee Dong Gook seized the opportunity to go down. There was no contact made but that seemed lost on the referee as he blew for a penalty. It was a ridiculous decision and made even more so by the fact that he had denied Seongnam a penalty only a few mins earlier. It was a killer blow that Seongnam struggled to recover from. When the HT whistle went the players trudged towards the tunnel as the boos rang out in the direction of the referee.

The second half started with Seongnam throwing everything at Jeonbuk. The more they came forward though the more gaps they left at the back allowing Jeonbuk opportunities. One such opportunity saw Lee Dong Gook presented with probably the easiest chance of his career after some clever play from Leonardo. But somehow from 6 yards he managed to screw his shot high, wide and not very handsome. At the other end the newly capped Hwang Uijo continued to frustrate, either snatching at chances or making wrong choices. The game was beginning to have an all too familiar ring to it now.

Jeonbuk, as they have so often this season, were able to see the match out and I guess that is the mark of champions. It was a frustrating end to a weekend that promised so much but ultimately delivered little more than a ridiculous hangover and a massive dent in my wallet.

 

Korean Ground Hopping Week 1

It started in Suwon and ended in Tancheon, delivered fifteen goals, three penalties, one thrashing and a ridiculous away support. Yip it was the week that was last week. I set out to attend as many games as I could in a week and in a journey that took in pretty much three of the four ends of the Seoul subway system I managed to see six matches in total, or five and a half if I’m honest about The Supermatch.

So where else to begin than that one at Suwon.

 

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Suwon 5 Seoul 1 (April 18th 2015)

I made the journey down to Suwon pretty early on the Saturday morning, more full of the previous night’s whisky than hope. Seoul had been poor up until this one but then they had been in the same boat this time last year too and they managed to win 1-0 thanks to an Escudero goal, by about 4:15 most Seoul fans must have been wishing they could see the Japanese just one more time. The big news at kick-off was that Park Chu Young hadn’t made the starting lineup but Molina was included and this gave some hope to the sea of red and black. It didn’t take long for that hope to seem as distant as any chance Seoul have of winning the league this year. A pretty harmless ball into the box was nodded down by the hugely impressive Chong Tae Se and it was scrambled over the line by Lee Sang Ho for 1-0 Suwon. You could already sense it was going to be one of those matches and even though Molina leveled the scoreline on half-time with a trademark free-kick it didn’t do much to ease the negative atmosphere, though in fairness that might just have been me. The second half was barely 10 mins old and it was 3-1 Suwon after two quick goals in succession, with the third a cracking but defensible header from a Suwon corner. At this point I left in search of a more painless way to finish my day and so missed an impressive Chong Tae Se double to end the rout and confirm Suwon’s bragging rights for the next few months. It may have finished 5-1 but to be honest it could have been any number and Choi has his work cut out for him this season to stop this going down as one of the worst in recent memory.

 

Next up was a trip to the end of line 3 and a K-League Challenge adventure.

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Goyang Hi 0 Daegu 2 (April 20th 2015)

This match had the honour of being my first Challenge match in Goyang Stadium (I attended an Asian Games match there last year) and the first live stadium podcast by the 48 Shades of Football podcast. It was a long trip from my home to the ground but it is a pretty good area once you step off the Daewha platform. I arrived earlier than anyone else so found a CU outside the station and decided to nurse a cold Cass until the boys arrived. Once we had re-grouped we headed in to the stadium a tad early which resulted in us being the only people there apart from the players themselves. Being presented with an empty stadium throws up more problems than you think but we eventually settled on a spot near the halfway line and got ready for a night of football thrills and podcast puns. The first half finished pretty much an even match with the hosts perhaps just shading it. This was to change in the second half when Daegu seemed to sense Goyang “there for the taking” and threw men forward. They were rewarded on the 75th minute when the free -scoring Johnathon fired in a free-kick which looked like it could have been stopped by either the wall or the keeper. Goyang tried to hit back but Daegu kept them mostly on the backfoot and it was no real surprise when they doubled their lead, this one a cracking turn and shot in the box by No Byung Jun. The podcast continued and as the match finished up we sought solace in a gazebo to finish off both the night’s recording and extra beers. It was a good trip up to the outskirts and even though the return journey is a tad long involving running to make last minute transfers it’s definitely a place I’ll be returning to in the future.

After watching the best both Korean leagues had to offer the next stop was the dizzy heights of the Asian Champions league and two games in two nights.

First up on the Tuesday it was the visit of the free-spending millionaires of Evergrande.

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Seoul 0 Guangzhou Evergrande 0 (April 21st 2015)

So after watching Seoul falter and fail against Suwon a mere three days earlier I dragged myself along to the Seoul World Cup Stadium to see them take on undoubtedly the biggest spenders in Asian football. Evergrande spent an obscene amount of money in the close season in an attempt to win back the ACL crown they so meekly lost last year, so far it hasn’t exactly been a roaring success. The news prior to kick-off was that Cha Du Ri was injured and with Park Chu Young ineligible Seoul’s task looked near impossible. Upon entering the stadium the Seoul fans were met with a wall of red facing them as Evergrande seemed to have round up everybody they could find and stuffed them into a red top. It was an impressive sight and was going to to prove to probably be the main talking point of the night. It took a total of 20 minutes for all the away fans to finally enter, get seated and begin to chant for their team. Its just a shame neither team had brought their shooting boots with them as not for the first time this year in the ACL we were served up with a rather pedestrian 0-0 draw. Both teams probably had chances to win the match but in truth neither team really needed to secure the three points with both perhaps confident that results in the final group match will ensure progress to the last 16.

 

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Seongnam 2 Buriram 1 (April 22nd 2015)

Much had been made of the first match between the two teams where Seongnam had put in a defensive display that the 3 Stooges would have been too embarrassed to put their name to. Seongnam had since then gone on an unbeaten run in the ACL with a home victory over Gamba followed by 4 pts from the Guangzhou R&F double-header. Seongnam had obviously disappointed themselves in the match in Thailand and even the marketing for the match referenced notions of ‘Revenge’.

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Seongnam started the match brightly much like they had done against Gamba and pressed Buriram high up the pitch while also containing them well the odd time they managed to attack. There was just 30 mins on the clock when a fairly harmless looking Kim Do Heon shot struck an arm and the referee pointed at the spot. The captain, having won the penalty, took it himself and calmly slotted it home for 1-0. Seongnam kept pushing forward and after just 10 mins were rewarded with a second, Nam Jun Jae getting up to head a Kim Do Heon free-kick past the flailing keeper and it was 2-0. Buriram pulled one back in the second half and after that the game kind of petered out. Seongnam hung on to record the victory that secured them a spot in the last 16 and with it making them the first “Citizens” club to progress so far. On their performance so far in the group matches and with ‘Fortress Tancheon’ earning it’s name you wouldn’t put it past them to take their run a little further.

After the ACL it was back to business and the ‘bread and butter’ of the K-League. First up was a trip down to Incheon and then finally a return to Tancheon to top of a week of football.

Incheon 1 Pohang 1 (April 25th 2015)

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Incheon is one of my favourite stadiums to go in Korea to watch football. The stands are built right on the pitch and it gives you a feel similar to those back home although a little emptier than I was accustomed to. This match had the potential to be a cracker, Pohang had rediscovered their form at last and Incheon are never particularly easy to beat at home. The first half was one of the best 45 mins of football I’ve seen in the K-League this season. Both teams started brightly with Incheon looking especially up for it. they had the ball in the back of the net in the first 10 mins but it was chopped off for offside much to the dismay of the Incheon fans around me. Next up it was Pohang’s turn to first elate then deflate their fans as they won a rather ‘soft’ penalty only for Tiago Alves to blast it over the bar. It was the kind of penalty that made Roberto Baggio’s effort at USA 90 seem close. This got Incheon firing again and within minutes they were 1-0 up, Kim Jin Hwan firing home for the hosts. Initially after the goal Pohang looked shell-shocked but they dragged themselves back into the match and Tiago went some way to make up for his earlier howler but cracking a shot from the edge of the box in off the far post and it was 1-1. We went into HT level and as I said earlier it was a cracking first half. But if the first half was good the second was abysmal. It was the kind of half that you wished you had listened to the missus when she asked you to join her for an afternoon of Hugh Grant movies. There was nothing much to talk about and both sets of fans left neither happy nor sad come the final whistle. I made my way back to Dowon Station and the generally long ride and inevitable having to stand up that makes this a depressing return home from any match.

 Seongnam 1 Jeju 1 (April 26th 2015)

Photo by @chiefinkorea
Photo by @chiefinkorea

 

And so it was that Tanchwon would be the final venue for the week long football extravaganza. Seongnam had been buoyed by the last 16 achievement and were of course going to ‘milk it’ as much as possible. This match had been marketed as ‘picnic day’, ‘celebration of last 16 day’ and a few other names too and it had to be said upon arrival there was more of a carnival atmosphere outside than usual. We had Nanta style drummers, Ball Beer girls and a few other events all happening outside the main ticket office. There was also a rather comical show inside involving a foreigner trying to squeeze into a Korean 110 sized Seongnam home shirt, of no wait that was me. Thankfully it didn’t rip and I was able to hand it back to the retailer albeit a rather more sheepish than when I first confidently asked to try it on. Onto to the match itself and it was a reasonably entertaining affair. Jeju are a good team and Seongnam are organized. They set out their stall to contain and counter whenever possible, its a tactic that works well and I think one that we will see throughout the rest of the season. It was Jeju who led at half-time through a sweet edge of the box strike from Ricardo Lopes. It was probably a deserved lead and it did take a little of the shine of the pre-match events. The biggest surprise before the match was that captain Kim Do Heon hadn’t made the starting eleven though I guess after his midweek exertions it shouldn’t have been so surprising. He was brought on at half-time in a bid to both tighten up and also spur on the Seongnam midfield. He was involved in most of their forward play and after Ricardo (I think) was tripped in the box he stepped up and yet again confidently nestled the ball in the back of the net. He has shown in glimpses so far this season why Tony Mowbray took him to WBA and  think if he continues to perform the way he has Seongnam will be safe from any relegation battle. The game finished 1-1 and it was soon time to head back along three subway lines to the confines of The Wolfhound in Itaewon and a couple more cold OBs.

So there it is 6 games in 9 days and although it took several subway lines, several hangovers and definitely too many beers it was a worthwhile week and one I’m sure my liver is just itching for me to repeat again next month.  Next up for me is a midweek FA Cup match at Seoul, followed by the Seoul v Seongnam match and then a flight to Osaka to take in Seongnam’s final ACL group match.

 

Korean Ground-hopping – Week 1

It started in Suwon and ended in Tancheon, delivered fifteen goals, three penalties, one thrashing and a ridiculous away support. Yip it was the week that was last week. I set out to attend as many games as I could in a week and in a journey that took in pretty much three of the four ends of the Seoul subway system I managed to see six matches in total, or five and a half if I’m honest about The Supermatch.

So where else to begin than that one at Suwon.

 

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Suwon 5 Seoul 1 (April 18th 2015)

I made the journey down to Suwon pretty early on the Saturday morning, more full of the previous night’s whisky than hope. Seoul had been poor up until this one but then they had been in the same boat this time last year too and they managed to win 1-0 thanks to an Escudero goal, by about 4:15 most Seoul fans must have been wishing they could see the Japanese just one more time. The big news at kick-off was that Park Chu Young hadn’t made the starting lineup but Molina was included and this gave some hope to the sea of red and black. I didn’t take long for that hope to seem as distant as any chance Seoul have of winning the league this year. A pretty harmless ball into the box was nodded down by the hugely impressive Chong Tae Se and it was scrambled over the line b Lee Sang Ho for 1-0 Suwon. You could already sense it was going to be one of those matches and even though Molina leveled the scoreline on half-time with a trademark free-kick it didn’t do much to ease the negative atmosphere, though in fairness that might just have been me. The second half was barely 10 mins old and it was 3-1 Suwon after two quick goals in succession, with the third a cracking but defensible header from a Suwon corner. At this point I left in search of a more painless way to finish my day and so missed an impressive Chong Tae Se double to end the rout and confirm Suwon’s bragging rights for the next few months. It may have finished 5-1 but to be honest it could have been any number and Choi has his work cut out for him this season to stop this going down as one of the worst in recent memory.

 

Next up was a trip to the end of line 3 and a K-League Challenge adventure.

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Goyang Hi 0 Daegu 2 (April 20th 2015)

This match had the honour of being my first Challenge match in Goyang Stadium (I attended an Asian Games match there last year) and the first live stadium podcast by the 48 Shades of Football podcast. It was a long trip from my home to the ground but it is a pretty good area once you step off the Daewha platform. I arrived earlier than anyone else so found a CU outside the station and decided to nurse a cold Cass until the boys arrived. Once we had re-grouped we headed in to the stadium a tad early which resulted in us being the only people there apart from the players themselves. Being presented with an empty stadium throws up more problems than you think but we eventually settled on a spot near the halfway line and got ready for a night of football thrills and podcast puns. The first half finished pretty much an even match with the hosts perhaps just shading it. This was to change in the second half when Daegu seemed to sense Goyang “there for the taking” and threw men forward. They were rewarded on the 75th minute when the free -scoring Johnathon fired in a free-kick which looked like it could have been stopped by either the wall or the keeper. Goyang tried to hit back but Daegu kept them mostly on the backfoot and it was no real surprise when they doubled their lead, this one a cracking turn and shot in the box by No Byung Jun. The podcast continued and as the match finished up we sought solace in a gazebo to finish off both the night’s recording and extra beers. It was a good trip up to the outskirts and even though the return journey is a tad long involving running to make last minute transfers it’s definitely a place I’ll be returning to in the future.

After watching the best both Korean leagues had to offer the next stop was the dizzy heights of the Asian Champions league and two games in two nights.

First up on the Tuesday it was the visit of the free-spending millionaires of Evergrande.

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Seoul 0 Guangzhou Evergrande 0 (April 21st 2015)

So after watching Seoul falter and fail against Suwon a mere three days earlier I dragged myself along to the Seoul World Cup Stadium to see them take on undoubtedly the biggest spenders in Asian football. Evergrande spent an obscene amount of money in the close season in an attempt to win back the ACL crown they so meekly lost last year, so far it hasn’t exactly been a roaring success. The news prior to kick-off was that Cha Du Ri was injured and with Park Chu Young ineligible Seoul’s task looked near impossible. Upon entering the stadium the Seoul fans were met with a wall of red facing them as Evergrande seemed to have round up everybody they could find and stuffed them into a red top. It was an impressive sight and was going to to prove to probably be the main talking point of the night. It took a total of 20 minutes for all the away fans to finally enter, get seated and begin to chant for their team. Its just a shame neither team had brought their shooting boots with them as not for the first time this year in the ACL we were served up with a rather pedestrian 0-0 draw. Both teams probably had chances to win the match but in truth neither team really needed to secure the three points with both perhaps confident that results in the final group match will ensure progress to the last 16.

 

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Seongnam 2 Buriram 1 (April 22nd 2015)

Much had been made of the first match between the two teams where Seongnam had put in a defensive display that the 3 Stooges would have been too embarrassed to put their name to. Seongnam had since then gone on an unbeaten run in the ACL with a home victory over Gamba followed by 4 pts from the Guangzhou R&F double-header. Seongnam had obviously disappointed themselves in the match in Thailand and even the marketing for the match referenced notions of ‘Revenge’.

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Seongnam started the match brightly much like they had done against Gamba and pressed Buriram high up the pitch while also containing them well the odd time they managed to attack. There was just 30 mins on the clock when a fairly harmless looking Kim Do Heon shot struck an arm and the referee pointed at the spot. The captain, having won the penalty, took it himself and calmly slotted it home for 1-0. Seongnam kept pushing forward and after just 10 mins were rewarded with a second, Nam Jun Jae getting up to head a Kim Do Heon free-kick past the flailing keeper and it was 2-0. Buriram pulled one back in the second half and after that the game kind of petered out. Seongnam hung on to record the victory that secured them a spot in the last 16 and with it making them the first “Citizens” club to progress so far. On their performance so far in the group matches and with ‘Fortress Tancheon’ earning it’s name you wouldn’t put it past them to take their run a little further.

After the ACL it was back to business and the ‘bread and butter’ of the K-League. First up was a trip down to Incheon and then finally a return to Tancheon to top of a week of football.

Incheon 1 Pohang 1 (April 25th 2015)

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Incheon is one of my favourite stadiums to go in Korea to watch football. The stands are built right on the pitch and it gives you a feel similar to those back home although a little emptier than I was accustomed to. This match had the potential to be a cracker, Pohang had rediscovered their form at last and Incheon are never particularly easy to beat at home. The first half was one of the best 45 mins of football I’ve seen in the K-League this season. Both teams started brightly with Incheon looking especially up for it. they had the ball in the back of the net in the first 10 mins but it was chopped off for offside much to the dismay of the Incheon fans around me. Next up it was Pohang’s turn to first elate then deflate their fans as they won a rather ‘soft’ penalty only for Tiago Alves to blast it over the bar. It was the kind of penalty that made Roberto Baggio’s effort at USA 90 seem close. This got Incheon firing again and within minutes they were 1-0 up, Kim Jin Hwan firing home for the hosts. Initially after the goal Pohang looked shell-shocked but they dragged themselves back into the match and Tiago went some way to make up for his earlier howler but cracking a shot from the edge of the box in off the far post and it was 1-1. We went into HT level and as I said earlier it was a cracking first half. But if the first half was good the second was abysmal. It was the kind of half that you wished you had listened to the missus when she asked you to join her for an afternoon of Hugh Grant movies. There was nothing much to talk about and both sets of fans left neither happy nor sad come the final whistle. I made my way back to Dowon Station and the generally long ride and inevitable having to stand up that makes this a depressing return home from any match.

 Seongnam 1 Jeju 1 (April 26th 2015)

Photo by @chiefinkorea
Photo by @chiefinkorea

 

And so it was that Tanchwon would be the final venue for the week long football extravaganza. Seongnam had been buoyed by the last 16 achievement and were of course going to ‘milk it’ as much as possible. This match had been marketed as ‘picnic day’, ‘celebration of last 16 day’ and a few other names too and it had to be said upon arrival there was more of a carnival atmosphere outside than usual. We had Nanta style drummers, Ball Beer girls and a few other events all happening outside the main ticket office. There was also a rather comical show inside involving a foreigner trying to squeeze into a Korean 110 sized Seongnam home shirt, of no wait that was me. Thankfully it didn’t rip and I was able to hand it back to the retailer albeit a rather more sheepish than when I first confidently asked to try it on. Onto to the match itself and it was a reasonably entertaining affair. Jeju are a good team and Seongnam are organized. They set out their stall to contain and counter whenever possible, its a tactic that works well and I think one that we will see throughout the rest of the season. It was Jeju who led at half-time through a sweet edge of the box strike from Ricardo Lopes. It was probably a deserved lead and it did take a little of the shine of the pre-match events. The biggest surprise before the match was that captain Kim Do Heon hadn’t made the starting eleven though I guess after his midweek exertions it shouldn’t have been so surprising. He was brought on at half-time in a bid to both tighten up and also spur on the Seongnam midfield. He was involved in most of their forward play and after Ricardo (I think) was tripped in the box he stepped up and yet again confidently nestled the ball in the back of the net. He has shown in glimpses so far this season why Tony Mowbray took him to WBA and  think if he continues to perform the way he has Seongnam will be safe from any relegation battle. The game finished 1-1 and it was soon time to head back along three subway lines to the confines of The Wolfhound in Itaewon and a couple more cold OBs.

So there it is 6 games in 9 days and although it took several subway lines, several hangovers and definitely too many beers it was a worthwhile week and one I’m sure my liver is just itching for me to repeat again next month.  Next up for me is a midweek FA Cup match at Seoul, followed by the Seoul v Seongnam match and then a flight to Osaka to take in Seongnam’s final ACL group match.

 

 

 

 

FC Seoul v Incheon – August 16th

FC Seoul Badge

One of the most interesting matches on paper last weekend was FC Seoul v Incheon, even though both teams occupy slots in the relegation group it had all the potential to be a cracking match. Incheon had hit a purple patch and after only one win in 15 had managed three in a row. They had been deserving in their wins and were beginning to make a march up the table. Seoul, on the other hand, were still having an unpredictable season. Victories against Pohang in the FA Cup and a quarter-final looming in the ACL (also against Pohang) had been diluted with a defeat against Ulsan at home in a match that would’ve seen them leapfrog them into the top group. Both teams, it was safe to say, had a lot to play for and to prove.

It was a beautiful day in Seoul so I decided to head to the World Cup Stadium earlier than usual for a ‘cold one or two’ before the game. When I arrived in the subway station I was surprised and disappointed to see that the freezer had been practically cleared of beer! I’m guessing more than just me had the idea of getting there early. I bought some of the few remaining Cass (no Dry Finish left) and headed to an area behind the merchandising tents to ‘relax’ before kick-off.

A couple of Cass later I made my way to the ticket booth to get a ticket and find a seat. I had thought before kick-off that the match might be pretty busy but upon entering I realized that was folly. It wasn’t a bad crowd but for a Saturday evening kick-off in summer it was a little disappointing. I’m guessing either the baseball was luring fans away or some had been ‘persuaded’ to entertain Chicken and Beer in Banpo Park instead. Ah Korea!

Seoul v Incheon Kick-off
Seoul v Incheon at Kick-off

Incheon, although buoyed by recent performances, hadn’t managed to bring as many fans as I had expected. It was kind of ironic that in the last 7 days or so both sets of fans had had protests against the running of their club. Seoul fans were protesting at the closure of the East Stand to allow a stage to be erected for a ‘Dream Concert’ followed by a Maroon 5 concert. Incheon were complaining about the Chairman and his lack of interest and investment and I believe some comment about the Mafia, though not entirely sure about the last one. But despite the passionate protests neither set of fans seemed willing to come out in numbers for this.

In the end just over 24,000 turned up to watch what ended up being one of the most one-sided matches of the season. The surprising news was that Seoul rested Cha, Molina, Everton and Escudero all from the starting line-up, Choi Yong Soo obviously having one eye on the ACL. The opening exchanges were, as to be expected, pretty even.These teams were in the bottom half for a reason. Then on 30 mins the game exploded into life. Yun Il Rok picked the ball up on the edge of the box, turned his man brilliantly and curled it into the top corner, keeper had no chance. 1-0 Seoul and Incheon looked rattled. It took all of 6 mins for Seoul to add a second as this time another well worked move down the left was finished with the easiest of side-foots by Ko Yo Han. 2-0 and the writing was all on the wall already for Incheon. Things were only going to go from bad to worse and with 2 mins to play before half-time Seoul added a third. This time Kim Chi Woo emulating Yun Il Rok as he cut in from the left, turned his man and buried it beyond Kwan in goals. It was almost half-time and the match was over. A lot of Seoul’s good play this season has come from Cha down the right wing so it was good to see that they have options on the left also.

Seoul Fans at HT
Seoul Fans at HT

We went into half-time with the score 3-0 and the Incheon fans treating us to the Korean version of “we’ll support you ever more!”, or something like that as they bounced around the away end as if 3-0 up. Seoul decided to despatch with their usual half-time entertainment of choosing a red devil to help promote sponsors GS. This time they brought out a a large red sheet of plastic, soaked it in water and had fans run up and slide down it to see who got the furthest. Fun Indeed! There were two guys and two girls, tho the girls would’ve been as well staying in the stands. One of the guys was actually good and managed a good distance, at this point I realized I was actually analyzing the skill of someone sliding down a plastic sheet and sank deep in my seat and opened another Cass.

Seoul Water Event
Seoul Water Event

As the second half started I wondered if Incheon were capable of a comeback or if indeed Seoul would even try a leg second half. The answers were NO to Incheon and YES to Seoul. Seoul continued to basically pummel Incheon who looked like they just wanted to pack up and leave, the fans still bouncing around to their credit. Coach Choi decided to freshen things up and brought Molina on in 69 mins, he was to have an almost immediate impact. With just under 15 mins left he made it 4-0. It was another great strike, this one coming from the right hand side of the box and driven low into the corner of the net. Four goals so far and three of them being goal of the month contenders. It was an emphatic scoreline now and nothing less than Seoul had deserved as they had completely dominated Incheon. Seoul though weren’t finished and kept the best to last. A ball into the box broke back to midfield and the ball was fed to Lee Sang Hyub about 25+ yards out. He took a touch and let rip with probably the sweetest strike of his career, the keeper yet again left helpless. 5-0 Seoul with about 8 mins left. There was still time for Incheon to grab a consolation goal as Jin Sung Wook headed in from a corner which proved to be the last touch of the ball.

It was a great match and a pretty unexpected scoreline. Incheon will have been devastated to see their good run halted in such embarrassing fashion, Seoul on the other hand can take a real confidence boost down to the Steelyard for the all important ACL match. As I left the stadium the Seoul fans were partying and singing under the North Stand, I doubt anyone would deny them their moment of joy after such an indifferent season.

Seoul Fans at FT
Seoul Fans at FT

@SeoulBhoy

Suwon v Pohang – August 3rd

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Due to a friend’s leaving night on the Saturday night I had been unable to attend Incheon’s 2-0 victory over Ulsan and so it was , with Magpie Brewery’s Evil Red Ale still swimming about my head,  I made my way to Suwon to see them take on the league leaders. The weather was pretty bad with it pretty much raining most of the day, but with the number 7000 bus from Sadang Stn stopping right outside the Big bird I felt pretty safe in the knowledge that I’d be able to stay relatively dry. I got to the Big Bird Cafe around 4:45 and ordered the now essential 6 pack of Dry Finish (kind 0f ironic giving the weather). I was joined a few minutes later by @korearacing who had made the trip down earlier after some rather disappointing lunch in Anyang. It was completely by chance that I had chosen to wear my Celtic top and as I sat surrounded in a sea of blue it brought back a few memories from days gone by in Glasgow. 

The rain chucking it down in Suwon!
The rain chucking it down in Suwon!

Suwon always seem to be able to draw the fans out no matter what the weather and Sunday was no different, from families to interesting youths shouting “Rangers Boo!”, to the match made in heaven couple of a male Suwon fan and a female Pohang fan. The Big Bird Cafe is a great place to meet and have a few before the game, and I wish more football grounds had somewhere similar although thinking back to my days in Glasgow I’m not sure it would work there!.

As kick-off approached we used the UN approved ‘rock, scissors, paper’ to see who went out in the rain for tickets and who bought another 6 pack. I guess I was pretty smug as @korearacing had to go out in the rain while I stayed indoors in the relative dry and safety of the cafe, although I have to admit that smugness was wiped off my face when he came back and informed me he had bought the tickets off an ajussi in the queue for 1/3 face value.

Dry beer and cheap tickets!
Dry beer and cheap tickets!

We soon made our way to the stadium and got seats up the back of the top tier, the World Cup Stadium in Suwon is a great place to watch football, you are pretty close to the pitch and the seat rows are kinda curved so you always seem to have a good view. But for some reason they chose to leave the ends behind the goal uncovered, which doesn’t really make sense. Needless to say both the Pohang fans and the Suwon ‘Ultras’ were going to get drenched if the rain kept up.

No sooner had I cleaned my seat (another annoyance about kleague grounds) than Suwon opened the scoring, there was all of 44secs on the clock when Santos burst through and buried the ball in the back of the Pohang net. The goal surprised everyone in the stadium as I think most people thought it was going to be a tough match with maybe the odd goal. Both Suwon and Pohang looked stunned and for the next 10 mins or so it did look like one of those nights where half the crowd miss the only highlight of the match. Pohang began to come back into the game and you could sense an equalizer was on the cards and in 26 mins Hwang Ji Su obliged. Pohang won a corner and as the ball fell to Hwang on the edge of the box he drilled it low past Jung Sung Ryoung. Pohang were back in the game and looking good. Then came one of the strangest moments in a K-League match this season. After some good Suwon pressure, including a world class save to defy Santos, the referee managed to award a penalty to Pohang for nothing. As the Suwon players protested the referee ran over to consult his linesman, instead of the Pohang player placing the ball on the spot and making it harder for the referee to take back the award he stood looking confused. After a couple of minutes the referee ran back over and awarded Suwon the goal-kick. It was never a penalty in the first place but for a referee to lose face like that, especially in Korea, was inexplicable. I’m guessing he’ll be cleaning the KFA kimchi bins for the next week.

The teams went in 1-1 at HT. The main talking point unfortunately was the phantom penalty and not the pretty decent match unfolding in front of us. As per most K-League teams Suwon have a half-time game where the fans can win prizes, I’ve seen a few variations but this was the best. They basically show a photo of a body part with 3 names and the fan chosen in the crowd had to guess which player it is, the funny thing is even I could recognize that some of the names were made up yet people kept getting them wrong. It was a pretty entertaining distraction and it also allowed the cameramen to practice their world cup bids by scouring the crowd for hot girls. During the proceeds there was a special, albeit 1 minute, guest appearance from old fans favourite Mato. He played for Suwon before I really watched a lot of K-League but my friend informed me that he brought a lot of colour to the game, mainly ‘black and blue’! Mato kicked two balls into the Suwon crowd and waved twice and then left to a roar from the fans, all the while being closely followed by some little Korean dude holding an umbrella above his head. I guess it’s not all glory and riches in the KFA.

Suwon fans
Suwon fans

As the second half started everyone was looking forward to another decent 45 mins, I don’t think many were expecting what happened tho. Suwon came out like a dog out of trap 6 (as my father used to say), Pohang came out like a dog! The difference in the two teams from the kick-off was obvious, Suwon sensed they could win it. It took 15 mins for Santos to restore the lead and it was a surprise it took that long. He latched onto a deflection on the the corner of the six yard box and although his shot was powerful enough the keeper flapped at it and it ended up in the back of the net. 2-1 Suwon and to be honest there only looked one winner from here. Suwon continued to push forward and Pohang really looked liked a team that just wanted to go home. They did have a chance to draw level towards the end of play but a weak header was easily parried by Jung. Then with 3 mins left a brilliant ball from the left from substitute Kwon Chang Hoon left Roger with the easiest finish he’ll have this season and BANG it was 3-1 Suwon. Amazingly though Suwon weren’t finished there and with 93 mins on the clock Kwon ran onto a clever header and tucked the ball brilliantly beyond Kim to make it 4-1 Suwon. An emphatic and deserved victory over the league leaders was secured.

From rain to a thrashing! It wasn't a good night for Pohang fans!
From rain to a thrashing! It wasn’t a good night for Pohang fans!

The result sees Pohang drop down to 2nd in the table behind Jeonbuk and also sees Suwon jump to 3rd 1pt ahead of Jeju. On this kind of home form it’s going to take a huge effort for anyone to knock them out of the top 6. It is a trip away to Jeonbuk next for Suwon and a victory there would see them them level at the top. Pohang face Seongnam at home and they will want to bounce back as soon as possible. For me its a short trip to Seoul World Cup stadium to see Seoul v Ulsan.

Other Results

Sangju 1 Seongnam 1

Incheon 2 Ulsan 0

Busan 1 Jeju 1

Gyeongnam 1 Seoul 1 

Jeonbuk 2 Jeonnam 0

Seongnam v Ulsan – July 6th (Plus Dalshabet!)

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Sunday July 6th threatened to be the Sunday of Champions, the K-league had returned in style on Saturday night with the live TBS match between Jeonnam and Seoul being a pretty decent game and today was to see the return to Tancheon for the first time in two months so all was looking good. I also decided to stop over at Seoul Racecourse for a quick flutter before heading over to Yatap. I’m not the world’s biggest gambler but with some pretty sweet ‘inside’ information I can say that I’ve never left Gwacehon out of pocket. This time though the main positive happened to be a performance by none other than Dalshabet. Seoul Racecourse has so far had performances from Girls Day, Hello Venus and Dalshbet, well you need ‘something’ to help the ajussis ‘be ambitious’  with their bets! (Pardon the awful kpop puns!)

Dalshabet at Seoul Racecourse!
Dalshabet at Seoul Racecourse!

Soon after Dalshabet had stopped ‘performing’ it was time to make the long and tiring journey to Yatap. 90% of the time taking the subway in Seoul is great but when it’s bad, man it’s bad. To get to Yatap we had to transfer to three different lines so needless to say a cold beer was well deserved when we got there. Tancheon is a cool little stadium, it’s a great stadium to watch football in even if you are a little far away from the action.

The game started with Kim Seung Gyu in goals for Ulsan after his brief appearances at the World Cup. You couldn’t help but wonder how he was feeling having only 9 days prior been between the sticks in Brazil against Belgium and now found himself facing the daunting prospect of Djeparov running at him!

Tancheon Sports Complex
Tancheon Sports Complex

 

The game started, not for the first time this season, slowly and I think both teams were feeling the adverse effects of having an almost two month break. Kim Shin Wook was given some extra time to recover from the World Cup, a little ironic when you consider he’d basically had a two-month break too. Seongnam this season have had a pretty sturdy defence and have been tough to break down and this was on display again today. The game had one of those kind of ‘end of season’ feels about it with both teams looking like they would take a 0-0 draw which I think reflects more on their title aspirations than anything else. The HT whistle sounded with neither team looking under pressure and my mind started drifting towards some Yatap fried chicken and of course the ubiquitous bottle(s) of Soju that accompanies such.

The crowd was announced at just over 4000, which is roughly about 1/4 full and although not going to break any attendance records wasn’t a bad turnout for a Sunday evening against Ulsan. The biggest problem for the Kleague  is Baseball, for some strange reason Koreans seem to prefer watching rounders as opposed to football. I always thought baseball was something you played in gym class when the teacher was too hungover to look for the coloured bibs and cones.

Another photo of Dalshabet
Another photo of Dalshabet

And so on to the second half, again like the first it began a little slow and even the memories of Dalshabet and my racetrack winnings were beginning to fade. Things started to look up a little around the 60min mark as both teams started to appear a little more lively and it looked like there might be a breakthrough soon. Then suddenly on 70 mins we got the spark the game needed. The ball fell to Yoo Jun Soo on the edge of the area and he let rip with a cracking shot that easily beat Jeon Sang Wook in goal and it was 1-0 Ulsan. It was a great strike and it really did spark the game into life. Suddenly Seongnam realized they had to go for it and were going to be made to work for a draw. They started pouring men forward and forced Kim into a couple of good saves and one pretty much world-class one from a close-range header. You could sense the equalizer was coming and with 7 mins left Hwang Ui-Jo squared the match with a pretty sweet effort. He picked the ball up near the byline and worked his way into the box before firing past Kim from a tight angle. It was nothing less than Seongnam deserved, but it was a shame that it took a goal from Ulsan to give them to kick they needed.

The rest of the match was played out and both sets of players looked pretty happy with the score at FT. Kim Seung Kyu was awarded Man of the Match which summed up the last 20 mins after Ulsan took the lead. As we made our way to our favourite chicken restaurant talk turned towards Seongnam’s next match away to Incheon on Wednesday evening. With Incheon’s current poor run of form it should make for a good game.

FT at Tancheon.
FT at Tancheon.

 

 

@SeoulBhoy