It’s a Challenge getting into the playoffs – K-League Challenge Preview

 

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……

 

The Challenge table heading into the final round.

Below is a preview of the teams involved and predictions for their final positions.

 

Asan Mugunghwa FC

The Police team have, for the most part, performed better this season than their flailing Army counterparts in the Classic. They recently saw a four game winning streak come to an end as they lost at home to Champions Gyeongnam after being 2-1 up with only 30 mins to play. They of course won the league last year under the guise of Ansan Mugunghwa but were prohibited from promotion due to some ‘office politics’ involving Ansan wanting their own team. This year they have flirted between 3rd and 5th pretty much since the season began and would surely consider it a failure if they were to fall out of the playoffs now. Their final game is away to 2nd placed Busan who are in FA Cup semi-final action this midweek against Suwon Bluewings, defeat there might just knock their confidence a little. Busan have won two and drawn three against the Police this year, can they go undefeated?

Prediction : 3rd (should probably have enough to come back from Busan with a point)

 

Seongnam FC

The team in the Challenge that most expected to bounce straight back up have been beyond poor this season, they started with a goal drought which lasted for what must have felt like an eternity to their fans during which time fan favoutite and focal point Hwang Uijo was transferred to Gamba Osaka. They then dumbfounded most by going on a run of fourteen games unbeaten including eight victories which clawed them into playoff contention. In recent weeks though they’ve looked devoid of both imagination and confidence and look like a team in a downward spiral, not too dis-similar to this time last year. They’ll need to find huge performances from somewhere if they are to claim the ultimate prize of playoff glory. Seongnam have arguably the hardest match of the three as they travel to champions Gyeongnam who don’t appear to be letting up. Seongnam have failed to win against Gyeongnam this season but did draw 1-1 in Changwon earlier in the year.

Prediction: 5th (a draw might not be enough)

 

Bucheon 1995

The final team vying for the playoffs is Bucheon FC who will be hoping to go one step further than last year when they lost in the playoff semi-final to Gangwon FC. This year they have been in and around playoff contention for the best part of the season, sitting between 3rd and 4th. They have a relatively strong squad and probably play some of the most attractive free-flowing football in the league although this does tend to leave them exposed at the back at times. In Waguininho they have one of the top goalscorers in the league and, along with Kim Shin, is definitely the one to watch. They travel to E-Land having lost heavily there back in August, E-Land have only their pride to play for but as we seen with Daejeon last weekend that can often be enough to squeeze a performance out.

Prediction : 4th (they have the easiest task of the three teams and should have enough to get the result)

 

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Seongnam v Suwon FC – The Flag Wars Return

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Saturday March 18th – 5pm kick-off

While they might not stir the emotions of the fans as much as Seongnam v Bluewings derbies the games against Suwon’s poorer cousins last season were some of the most entertaining with one draw and three victories being watched by some of the largest attendances in either stadium. Suwon have started the season brightly and have two wins from two so far, having first dispatched of Anyang before last week’s scalp of Bucheon. Those two victories have them sitting in second on goal difference behind Busan. They are a solid outfit and one of their more successful tactics last year was to press their opponents, never giving them a second to breathe. This was particularly successful against Seongnam when the likes of Kim Do Heon and Hwang Uijo seemed to really struggle with the ‘close attention’. The win last week came courtesy of a Bruce Djite goal and he is definitely going to be one to watch in 2017. He signed for Suwon in the summer last year and scored a reasonable five goals in thirteen games as they battled for survival in Classic. Suwon also kept a hold of fellow Australian Adrian Leijer who impressed at the back for most of last year.

Suwon get ready to visit Tancheon again!!

Last week saw Seongnam get their first goal and first point of the 2017 campaign as they battled to a 1-1 draw down in Daejeon. The visitors took the lead in the second minute, Ahn Jae Joon with a header at the back post. Seongnam looked much more dangerous in the first half hour than they had looked all game against Busan in the opening weekend. They were pegged back when Lee Ho Seok scored for Daejeon on 36 but in all honesty it was a wicked deflection that beat Kim in goals and you got the feeling that he had the original shot more than covered. Daejeon threw everything at Seongnam in the 2nd half and Christian Danalche especially should have scored but in the end the game petered out and both teams settled for a draw and some points on the table.  Seongnam are still suffering from injuries but the games come thick and fast in the Challenge and they’ll need to find winning ways soon. This weekend against second place would be the ideal start.

The teams have met each other four times, all of which were last year, and Suwon have the upper hand having won twice and drawn once. Incredibly Seongnam have only been in the lead for a total of 20 minutes over those four matches. It is safe to say that Suwon played a huge part in Seongnam’s relegation and I’m sure The Magpies will be eager to make amends.

Prediction : Score Draw : Seongnam 1 – Suwon 1

Also in the Challenge this week we have

Daejeon v E-Land (Sat @ 3pm)

Asan v Bucheon (Sun @ 3pm)

Ansan v Anyang (Sun @ 3pm)

Busan v Gyeongnam (Sun @ 3pm)

 

Daejeon v Seongnam – The Clash of the Citizens

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.

 

Sunday March 12th – 3pm Kick-off

Round 2 sees The Magpies facing easily one of the hardest away trips in the Challenge as they make their way to Daejeon to face their fellow ‘citizens’ in a match which might already have the Seongnam faithful contemplating 4pm KTX tickets. Daejeon themselves had a fairly underwhelming opening weekend as they fell to Korea’s newest team in a 2-1 defeat in Ansan. On paper Deajeon should have been winning that one every day of the week and this might just give Seongnam some hope that they are not quite fully ready. They do boast players such as Christian Danalache among their ranks and are a team who are generally capable of rising to the big occasion.

Seongnam rely, a little too much, on Hwang Uijo and if he isn’t performing to his best, see last week, then they do tend to look a little flat and lost. Last week new signing Paulo Sergio looked as much a footballer as the season-ticket selling ajumma at the East Gate, although in fairness she was at least able to pick out some of the players! It will take a much more cohesive, passionate, fluent and generally football-like performance this weekend to prevent Seongnam cementing their place at the bottom of the table.

The teams have met thirty-nine times in their history during which Daejeon have only won five times, it is on history alone a massive mis-match but this Seongnam team lack more than just skill at times and Daejeon might just see the chance to right a few wrongs come Sunday. 

Prediction : Score Draw : Daejeon 1 – Seongnam 1

Seongnam v Busan – The Journey Back Begins!!

sfcvbusan

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.

k-league-challenge-logo

It was arguably the biggest shock since relegation was introduced as 7 times league winners Seongnam fell to a Heo Beom San strike back in November 2016 that would consign them to the hugely unfamiliar surroundings of the K-League Challenge for at least the 2017 season. The fact that it was only 18 months prior that Kim Do Heon’s 91st minute penalty was enough to defeat the Galacticos of Guangzhou Evergrande made the predicament all the more difficult for the fans in black to understand never mind accept. But enough reminiscing it’s almost time for “Kick-Off!”

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Seongnam FC v Busan I-Park (Saturday March 4th @ 3pm)

All Challenge-eyes will fixed on Tancheon at 3pm as two former K-League Classic heavyweights clash for the first time since August 2015 in what many expect will be the main battle for the Challenge crown in 2017. Much has changed for Seongnam since that bleak day in November as a new manager in the shape of ex-Jeju favorite Park Kyung Hoon was handed the reins and ultimately the task of resurrecting the club. Gone are fans favorites Park Jin Po, Lim Chai Min (Army) and Pitu and in their place come in ex-Daegu midfielder Paulo Sergio, Australian internationalist Dario Vidosic and Croatian Marin Orsulic. The funeral-like atmosphere that surrounded Tancheon as the Gangwon faithful celebrated promotion has been turned into a generally positive and expectant vibe, one that the fans hope can see their idols storm back to the ‘big boys playground’. Seongnam also managed to keep a hold of some key players for the 2017 season and especially Kim Dong Jun and Hwang Uijo will be pivotal to any success they have. Hwang had a bit of a nightmare 2016 but in pre-season he’s looked eager to make up for lost time, he also reverted back to his “lucky” Number 16 jersey and we all know how superstitious footballers are.

In Busan though they face a team that has also been buoyed over the close season. Cho Jin Ho left his post at Sangju after an incredible top-group finish and with him he has recruited several exciting names with Bucheon FC’s Lukian being probably the standout. They have amassed a pretty strong attacking lineup with Lee Jeong-Hyeop and Lim Sang Hyub more than capable foil for the aforementioned Lukian  It’s fair to say that last year Busan were pretty underwhelming and really struggled with their new surroundings but their close season dealings definitely resemble that of a team who mean business this year.

Over the years these two have gone toe-to-toe thirty-six times with Seongnam having the clear upper-hand having won eighteen of those encounters and in fact they have won four in a row all with a 1-0 scoreline. There is so much pressure and expectation on both these teams to do well this season and that might have a baring on performances over the first few weeks. Both managers are known for their swashbuckling attacking play and they both have players more than capable of turning a match on its head. On paper this has the potential to eclipse some of the more prominent K-League Classic parings of the opening weekend…..will it live up to it’s billing though?

Prediction : Home Win : Seongnam 2 – Busan 1

Also in the opening round of the Challenge we have

Ansan Greeners v Daejeon (Sat @ 3pm)

Anyang v Suwon (Sun @ 3pm)

Bucheon v E-Land (Sun @ 3pm)

Gyeongnam v Asan (Sun @ 3pm)

 

K-League Playoff 2nd Leg Preview

 

keep-calm-you-are-the-last-man-standing

 

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. 

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K-League Playoff Final 2nd Leg Preview

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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.

Key Players

Seongnam –

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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.

Gangwon

luiz

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)

K-League Challenge Playoff Round 2 Preview

K-League Challenge

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-2

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!!!

daegusuwonfc

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.

Johnathon - Daegu FC
Johnathon – Daegu FC

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.

Japa scoring against Seoul E-land
Japa scoring against Seoul E-land

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?

K-League Challenge Play-off Round 1 Preview

K-League Challenge

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.

suwonfcE-land

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.