Monday, November 7, 2005

Korea Update

As excitement was mounting off the pitch in the K-League as the regular season approaches the finish line, the players in action on Sunday afternoon did their best not too set any pulses racing as just two goals were scored in six fixtures in the penultimate round.

One of them was from an 87th minute penalty kick, coolly converted by Dzenan Radondic, Incheon United’s Serbian striker. The strike that flew past Kim Young-kwang in the Chunnam Dragons’ goal earned United a place in the end of season championship play-offs.

Barely 18 months after the West Coast club played their first ever professional fixture in South Korea, manager Jang Woe-ryong can start planning for the Championship play-off games that kick-off on November 20 – a fantastic achievement for everybody concerned with the club.

The only other team guaranteed a place in the four-team play-offs are Busan I’Park. The first-stage winners have lost nine and drawn two of the second stage, form, it is safe to say, isn’t ideal preparation for the upcoming knockout games as Busan boss Ian Porterfield said. “It’s been a nightmare and we are just waiting for the second phase to end and then we can focus on the play-offs.”

On Sunday, the south coast team were on the receiving end of the day’s only other goal. Koh Ki-koo shot home in the 57th minute as Bucheon SK returned north with all three points. Bucheon need a win in the last game at home to Daejeon Citizen on Wednesday night to guarantee a place in the final four. Such an opportunity has been unthinkable in the club’s recent history, most of which has been spent looking up at the likes of Seongnam, Suwon and Ulsan.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma only need a point from their home game with Pohang Steelers on the same evening. The league’s form team made the tricky trip to Ulsan on the back of a five-match winning streak but had the misfortune of star striker Mota being shown the red card for the use of an elbow. The incident happened on the half-hour and well behind the play but fortunately for Hyun Yong-min of Ulsan, the referee saw it all. The Brazilian hotshot was eventually persuaded to leave the field upon which he promptly burst into tears in the arms of a member of the coaching staff.

The ten-men of Seongnam hung on for the draw and should make the play-offs either by winning the second-stage or by virtue of collecting enough overall points. Pohang travel to the home of the six-time champions of Wednesday and need a win to have a chance of extending their season for the second successive year and the same can be said for Ulsan who travel to struggling Chonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Korean FA Cup.

Busan I’Park are the holders but not for much longer as the struggling team became the only L-League outfit to fall at the first hurdle after being dumped out of the 2005 competition by K2 outfit Ulsan Mipo Dockyard.

In the second round, Incheon United and Bucheon SK perhaps had more than one eye on the K-League. Incheon were dumped out by Goyang Kookmin Bank and Bucheon faced a similar fate, losing 4-2 to Incheon Rail.

Those two K2 teams will meet in the quarter-finals thus ensuring a K2 team in the last four. Such a result would be interesting as the tournament grants the winners a place in the AFC Champions League and it would be interesting to see what the AFC’s reaction to Incheon Rail or Goyang KB participating in the continental competition would be.

With such a prize on offer, defending K-League champions Suwon Samsung Bluewings have declared their desire to win the cup. Cha Bum-keun has been under increasing pressure from the club’s passionate but demanding fans as the Asian Club Champions of 2001 and 2002 have languished near the bottom of the table all season.

Suwon overcame some stubborn Seongnam resistance to book a quarter-final tie at Chonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Quarter-finals (to be played December 10)Chunbuk Motors v Suwon BluewingsGoyang Kookmin Bank v Incheon Rail Daejeon Citizen or Ulsan Mipo v Pohang Steelers Daegu FC v Chunnam Dragons

Park Ji-sung

The poor midfielder must be wondering what he has let himself in for as United lurch from crisis to crisis. After a nervy opening, Korean fans have been relieved to see the “New Engine” start to perform better in the famous red shirt.

Performances at Fulham and Sunderland were encouraging as was the fact that the 24 year-old was the captain of the Premier League giants for eight minutes in the team’s home goalless draw with Lille in the UEFA Champions League.

Now the South Korean press has decided that it is Park’s job to take the role of Tom Hanks and “Save Coach Ferguson”.

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