K League Update
We are almost a third of the way through the second stage of the 2006 K-League season - and whisper it quietly - but it is shaping up to be an least interesting, and perhaps even exciting campaign.
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma walked the first half, finishing a full ten points clear. When the six-times champions started the second stage with two comfortable wins – the first being a comprehensive 4-0 victory over the usually solid Daejeon Citizen - the groans could be heard all the way from Mokpo to Sokcho.
There is a happier mood about the southern half of the peninsula now that Seongnam have lost their last two games, the latter one coming as a bit of a shock – a 1-0 setback at bottom club Gwangju Samgmu. Fans of the Gyeonggi province club won’t be too concerned as the club have already qualified for the end of season championship play-offs.
Seongnam are still in touch at the top however and are part of the “Big Four” that are mostly leading the way at the moment.
FC Seoul are first.The LG-owned outfit won the Hauzen Cup in July and have carried on their good form though they have yet to be totally convincing. A 2-1 win at Chonbuk Motors was achieved because of some dismal refereeing decisions and a 1-0 home win over Jeju United came despite an unimaginative attacking performance –with Park Chu-young the main culprit.
The “Rookie Genius” was the story of the 2005 season in Korea. Everywhere the young striker, now 21, went he attracted massive crowds. He was the 2004 Young Asian Player of the Year, the top scorer in the regular 2005 K-League season and scored a last-minute goal on his national team debut that rescued a point in a vital World Cup qualifier –it was the proverbial meteoric rise to the top.
It all seems so long ago for the youngster whose face still adorns EA’s FIFA 06 football game in South Korea. Dropped from the national team and often on the bench for FC Seoul, he won’t be on the cover for next year’s version as his shots go everywhere but the goal.
At least his team are doing well and are two points clear of second-placed Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Suwon yet again failed to defeat bogey team Daejeon Citizen last weekend though Juan Olivera scored his third goal in five games despite the fact that the Uruguayan striker makes Teddy Sheringham look positively speedy - though his goal last weekend was an excellent one.
Champions Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I are level on eight points with Suwon but there are doubts as to the Tigers’ consistency as drawing at Gwangju one week then winning Seongnam the next testify. Lee Chun-soo, scorer of the winning goal that game, has injury problems but still found the energy to turn down the offer of a trial with Premier League outfit Portsmouth – his time will come.
Seongnam are fifth, one place below Pohang Steelers and one ahead of Jeju United who have already won more games than they managed when finishing bottom of the first stage.
At the ‘business end’ of the table, anyone would think that FA Cup holders Chonbuk had won the first stage as they have managed to pick up just a single point from the first four games. Their latest poor result was a home defeat at the hands of an Incheon United side that had failed to win in their previous 14 attempts.
Incheon collected the most points overall in 2005 but have had real problems finding the target – just fifteen goals so far this season. They needed a deflected shot to do so at the Jeonju home of the Motors but Coach Jang Woe-ryeong will not mind at all.
The Asian Champions League
Japanese readers are probably unaware that the continental competition has a knockout stage but it has and it starts on September 13 with Ulsan and Chonbuk representing South Korea.
Chonbuk probably have the easier task of facing Shanghai Shenhua – though the Chinese outfit currently lies second in the Chinese Super League as opposed to Chonbuk’s last.
Shenhua ‘boast’ Carsten Jancker in their line-up but the ex-German international has yet to score since heading east from the Bundesliga in April. But Shanghai have Chinese internationals like Li Weifang, Sun Xiang and Zie Hui to call upon.
The Motors defeated Chinese champions Dalian Shide in the group stage and will be confident of leaving their domestic form behind and reaching the semi-final of the competition for the second time in three years.
Then they were defeated by eventual champions Al Ittihad (who went on to beat Seongnam in the final and Busan the year after) and Ulsan face Saudi opposition.
Fortunately it is not the bane of Korean teams that the Tigers will meet but Saudi Arabian champions Al Shabab. The Riyadh outfit, who have Ghanian international Godwin Attram in attack, have gone through five coaches so far this year but the latest pair of hands at the helm belong to none other than South Korean national team coach (2003-2004) Humberto Coelho.
It should be an interesting week.
K-League Standings - September 12
1: Seoul P 4 Pts 10
2: Suwon P 4 Pts 8
3: Ulsan P 4 Pts 8
4: Pohang P 4 Pts 7
5: Seongnam P 4 Pts 6
6: Jeju P 4 Pts 6
7: Busan P 4 Pts 5
8: Incheon P 4 Pts 5
9: Chunnam P 4 Pts 4
10:Daegu P 4 Pts 4
11:GyeongnamP 4 Pts 4
12:Gwangju P 4 Pts 4
13:Daejeon P 4 Pts 4
14:Chonbuk P 4 Pts 1
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