Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Seongnam Stroll To Seventh Success


Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma have been crowned K-League champions for the seventh time after a 3-1 aggregate win over Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the two-legged championship play-off decider.

It was a deserved win for the team that inhabits the affluent southern Seoul suburb of Bundang as they took the first leg at home 1-0 and shocked Suwon with a fairly comfortable 2-1 win in the second match.

The first leg was a tight affair –even more so for the fans squeezed into Seongnam’s Stadium as the attendance given was 21,000 – 5,000 more than the official capacity of the airy arena.

K-League spokespeople mumbled something about a temporary increase in capacity. It may not be too important but anyone familiar with Korean football knows that if Korean teams were as creative on the pitch as officials are when announcing attendance figures then the K-League would be a much better place.

One thing is for sure; at least half of those in attendance were sporting blue shirts after making the short trek east from Suwon.

They had little to shout about. Seongnam controlled the game for long periods without looking especially dangerous against a well-drilled Suwon back-four. With the visitors failing to create anything of note, the game was heading for a goalless draw.

That was until the 88th minute. Park Jin-seob launched a long cross from the right and K-League top scorer Woo Sung-yong was allowed to sneak in at the far post between two defenders and head the ball past the flat-footed Park Hyo-jin in the Suwon goal.

It was a deserved win on the day and left things nicely poised for the second leg with Suwon going for a fourth title and their second in three years in front of their own fans.

Those supporters turned out in force though the official 38,500 attendance was surprisingly swelled by the presence of over 5,000 yellow-shirted away fans at the ‘Big Bird'. The Seongnam fans took advantage of free travel to give the K-League’s most successful but worst supported team some vocal backing in the second leg.

Suwon boss Cha Bum-keun gave those critics who believe that he may have been a great player but he ain’t a great coach extra fuel by sticking playmaker Lee Kwan-woo on the right wing and drafting in Park Ju-song in defence. The 22 year-old had just returned from his two year military spell with Gwangju Sangmu and looked lost.

He was put out of his misery at half-time but by then the damage was done as Seongnam have something that Suwon lack – strikers that don’t need asking twice to put the ball into the net.

2004 K-League top scorer Mota has not had the best season at Seongnam – a broken ankle is responsible for that – but he showed all his predatory instincts after 26 minutes as he flicked the ball into the Suwon net from close range, despite the attentions of a blue-shirted defender.

From that moment, the hosts’ hopes of a quartet of titles looked doomed. Suwon were short of ideas, movement and perhaps most worryingly, motivation.

It didn’t improve much in the second half. The introduction of a disappointing Da Silva and young striker Seo Dong-hyun looked lightweight compared to Seongnam’s substitutions which brought the K-League’s top scorer Woo Sung-yong and international star Kim Sang-sik onto the pitch.

It wasn’t until Mota, left unmarked at the near post, scored his second and Seongnam’s third of the fixture midway through the second half that Suwon roused themselves to finally trouble Kim Yong-dae in the Seongnam goal.

Da Silva lifted his barrel-chest into the air with 14 minutes left to head home and hand the hosts a lifeline though with two goals still required, it was a tenuous one. So it proved and it was all over with three minutes remaining when striker Seo dragged a shot wide of the post with only ‘keeper Kim to beat.

It was very much a case of too little, too late from the Bluewings who can console themselves with the FA Cup final against Chunnam Dragons on December 3.

Seongnam rejoiced with a seventh title and a crack at the 2007 Asian Champions League when their line-up may contain a certain Mr. Ahn Jung-hwan.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

Asian Soccer News and Interviews

Seoul Guide

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