International football? Son Heung Min braces? All this will pale into insignificance come mid-week as the 2017 K-League Playoffs begin with Asan Mugunghwa FC welcoming Seongnam FC to town to see who has the pleasure of travelling to the Gudeok Stadium on Saturday to face runners-up and FA Cup finalists Busan FC. It’s been a long season for both teams and after an incredibly tense last round of fixtures it was Asan who secured 3rd place in the league with Seongnam securing the final spot as they claimed fourth. The playoffs have thrown up some fantastic matches of late such as Gwangju humbling Gyeongnam, the 3-3 Battle of Suwon and of course last year’s Tears in Tancheon as Seongnam were relegated….what will this year give us?
This weekend sees the final round of the K-League Challenge and there are still two playoff spots up for grabs as Asan, Seongnam and Bucheon all fight for the right to face-off to see who will play Busan and ultimately the lowest placed Classic club to join Gyeongnam at the top table of the K-League Classic. Gyeongnam and Busan have been running away with things at the top of the table for what seems like the full year while everyone else (well maybe not Daejeon) have been making up the numbers in the race for best of the rest. After some surprising results on Saturday past it was left to Seongnam only needing a win to clinch one of the spots, alas they failed to show up yet again which sets up the 3 team battle in the final week. With the table looking like this……
Seongnam’s Journey Back – Week 3 – The Flag Wars Return
Last year the clashes between Seongnam and Suwon FC were billed as ‘The Flag Wars’ as both mayors held their own private competition which would see the victor get to fly their “colours” at the other’s stadium, it’s safe to say that this was a bet that Seongnam’s Lee Jae Myung probably didn’t see himself losing once never mind twice across the year. We often hear the term “bogey team” get banded about in football but in fairness last year Suwon put the knife into Seongnam on more than one occasion and given the fact that only one of those four fixtures took place in Suwon it was tough for the boys in black to take. This weekend will see the first of a double-header as Seongnam welcome Suwon to town in the Challenge before meeting them again in the FA Cup 3rd Round on March 29th, also at Tancheon. Given how Seongnam have started their first year in the 2nd Division those two matches are already looking like season-defining moments.
Seongnam’s Journey Back – Week 2 – Clash of the Citizens
So it’s safe to say that week one of Seongnam’s journey back to the Classic didn’t quite go according to plan as one flash of Lee Jeong Hyeop accompanied by one flash from Hwang Uijo’s 50p shaped head meant that all the marketing in the world couldn’t stop the boys in black from falling to a disastrous first week defeat. It was billed as a top of the table clash but in reality it unfortunately had the look and feel of two teams far disconnected from their previous glories with those eleven titles between them looking as hazy as the morning after a Halla-San Soju-fest. Seongnam’s new coach, Park Kyung Hoon, has publicly taken the blame for the defeat citing both tactical errors and an injury list longer than an Itaewon McDonald’s queue. He will need to right the former rather quickly if he wants to remain in the black hotseat until December.
And so it is that after the perils of Pohang, the torment of the final day at Tancheon and a close season that seems to have lasted forever, Seongnam FC will begin their campaign to reclaim their spot at the top table in the K-League Classic. Regarded by many as favorites to ‘bounce back up’ they will start their Challenge campaign against most people’s other favorite, Busan, in what should be a real test for both teams and what will hopefully be a cracking match for fans and neutrals alike. The Challenge this year is shaping up to be every bit as competitive as the Classic as also alongside Seongnam and Busan we have the likes of Suwon FC, Daejeon and Gyeongnam all hoping to clinch the golden ticket to the Classic.
At 3pm on Sunday two teams will clash in the final 90 mins of the 2016 K-League season as Seongnam FC and Gangwon FC face off in the playoff second leg at Tancheon. The match is perfectly poised after a rather tepid and oftentimes boring first leg finished 0-0 on Thursday past. With all to play for hopefully this match will serve us up a battle to last long in the memory.
K-League Playoff Final 2nd Leg Preview
Seongnam FC v Gangwon FC
Seongnam will host the K-League Challenge’s Gangwon in the final match of this year’s K-League season in a game which will decide which team gets the final place in the Classic for 2017. The sight of Seongnam in the playoffs is something that even the most pessimistic among their support could not have foreseen. They had an awful run of form toward the end of the season which saw them plummet from potential ACL participants to the playoffs. They have only the one win in their last fifteen or so games including last week’s bore draw but more worryingly for the Tancheon die-hard is the fact they’ve only found the net once in the last six matches and that was from the spot in a 2-1 loss to Suwon FC. Too many key players have failed to perform for them in key matches and if they once again fail to turn up in the final it could be a miserable day for those in black.
Gangwon are a team playing with confidence having won both of their playoff games vs. Busan and then Bucheon 1995. They didn’t have a great end to the season and lost a few games in the final push for the playoffs although interestingly they lost to both Busan and Bucheon in the league before overcoming them in the playoffs which could be ominous for Seongnam. They boast a good group of foreign players and as was witnessed from the 1st leg they are not afraid to get down and dirty if the occasion calls.
Pitu – There is no denying the class that Seongnam’s Argentinian number 26 possesses. He has an incredible eye for a pass, can score and is pretty deadly from set-pieces. He’s been off the boil since Kim Hak Bum left the club and has been used sparingly under the caretaker manager. He played in the 1st leg but winded himself in a challenge with the goalkeeper and limped off the pitch but should recover in time to take his place at Tancheon. If he plays there are fewer more influential midfielders in Korea and he could just be the man to pull the strings of probably Seongnam’s most important 90 mins of the last few seasons.
Luiz – The Brazilian midfielder raised quite a few eyebrows during the summer transfer window when he stepped down a division from Jeonbuk, albeit on loan. This was a move which seemed to have been engineered to allow Edu to make his return to Jeonju. He’s repaid his loan deal notching up seven goals for the club and while that sounds like a meagre return it’s his experience and overall presence on the pitch which has elevated him to a key player. Having lifted no less than three K-League Classic titles during his time in Korea he knows what it takes to win big matches and is unlikely to be phased by this one. If he plays on the day he has all the skill to cause Seongnam problems.
Prediction: It will be a cagey affair with so much at stake and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if extra time is needed to separate them. Seongnam 2 – Gangwon 1 (potentially taking 120 mins to decide it)
We’ve hardly had time to catch our breath or dry our clothes after what was a potential game of the season on Wednesday as Suwon FC just edged the first round of the playoff. A 3-3 draw was enough for them to see off the challenge of Seoul E-land and book themselves a date with destiny against Daegu on Saturday afternoon. As the scoreline would suggest the match was a pretty enthralling encounter between two teams who decided to leave defending in the dressing room. Some could argue that it was the perplexing idea of a draw ensuring victory for the home team that created or inspired such a display of attacking football or others could just argue it was rank rotten defending and atrocious conditions. I am willing to give both arguments my vote. That match has left E-land wondering about what might have been and Suwon maybe just maybe beginning to dream about trips to such exotic paradises as Jeju, Jeonju and the POSCO factory complex.
Round two of the playoffs will be another one-off match this time in Korea’s fourth biggest city of Daegu. A city known for beautiful girls, apples and plastic surgery, I’m sure two of them are closely linked!!!
Daegu FC v Suwon FC (Sat Nov 28th @ 2pm)
With a lot to live up to after Wednesday’s goal fest, Daegu will play host to the final playoff match in the K-League Challenge to see who will take on Busan for the last place in next season’s K-League Classic (as yes that was deliberate). As with the previous round, home advantage guarantees that a draw over 90 mins will be enough to see the hosts prepare to welcome Busan next midweek. Just like with E-land and Suwon, Daegu also possess a prolific striker with the league’s top scorer Johnathon on their books. With 26 goals in 37 starts it’s a record to rival that of Adriano’s from last season when he almost singlehandedly drove Daejeon to the Challenge title. Johnathon was recently linked with a move to the Middle East but he has quashed those rumors and has pledged his future to Daegu, of course we’ll see how that holds up if they fail to make it through the playoffs.
Daegu though are far from a one-man team and have several players capable of both creating and taking chances. Brazilian-Palestinian Elder is a player who has the talent to make an impact in this match. He has 10 goals (in 21 starts) to his name this season and while not quite as prolific as his teammate it’s still a decent return on his first season. As mentioned in my Round 1 preview Japa and Sisi are two or Suwon’s main threats and although E-land tried to contain them as much as possible Japa was still able to come up with a moment of class when he cleverly turned home a shot from the middle of the box to level the scoring at 1-1. If allowed the time and space again he will punish Daegu for sure.
Daegu come into this match with a pretty abysmal home record against Suwon this season, losing both matches and conceding a confidence-sapping six goals in the process. They did however stem the flow of poor results in the final match where they defeated Suwon 2-0 on their own turf. That 2-0 victory was only just over a month ago and will still be fresh in both team’s mind which could just give the hosts a slight edge. Daegu also have the added luxury of having had a week to rest and prepare for the match unlike Suwon who must be a tad drained after the emotional roller coaster of Wednesday night. They at least know they won’t have to play for more than 90 mins so maybe one last motivational talk from Cho Deok Je might just be enough to get them over the line.
This match is another tough one to call just like Wednesday was, here’s hoping we get another fantastic goal-laden contest. The prize at the end of the game is in the shape of a two-leg match against a a Busan team that look devoid of both confidence and imagination at the moment. Could we have a repeat of the Gwangju miracle?