Tuesday, February 27, 2007

2007 K-League Preview: Part Two

Seongnam lift 2006 K-League trophy
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma

The champions are still warm from their seventh title triumph that was achieved at the start of a winter that has yet to leave the Land of the Morning Calm.

As they say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and Seongnam haven’t been too busy in the transfer market. 2006 top scorer Woo Sung-young has gone and his goals will be missed but at the age of 33, he has been traded in for a younger model – Kim Dong-hyun.

The former Suwon striker has spent the past two seasons in Portugal with Braga and Russian club Rubin Kazan. Kim may be younger but, as yet, is far less dangerous than the wily Woo in front of goal. Choi Sung-kuk is another expensive addition at over $2 million. “Little Maradona” may not be a prolific goalscorer either but his silky skills do cause problems around the penalty area.

Star striker Mota is fit and ready to show the other marksman in Korea how to score and with national team stars such as Kim Doo-hyun, Kim Sang-sik, Kim Young-chul and Kim Yong-dae, there is a solid spine to Seongnam.

Key Player: Kim Doo-hyun
Last Season: Champions
Next Season: Third

Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Runners-up last season, Suwon are hoping to go one better this time around. The biggest transfer story of the winter was the decision of Ahn Jung-hwan to abandon, for the moment at least, his dream of playing in England or Spain. Much depends on the form and attitude of the Lord of the Ring, a player who always seems to have his mind on his next destination.

Suwon’s midfield is a stellar one with Kim Nam-il, Baek Ji-hoon and Lee Kwan-woo spending the second half of last season becoming a formidable unit. With a strong defence, the forward line was the weak link and if Ahn can find his scoring from of the last time he was in the K-League prior to his move to Italy in 2000 then Suwon could be in line for a fourth title.

Key Player: Ahn Jung-hwan
Last Season: Runners-up
Next Season: Runners-up


Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i

The Tigers were toothless in 2006 and a repeat of such a boring season will be unacceptable. It is unlikely however as Kim Jung-nam has been very active in the transfer market.

$2 million seems a lot to secure the services of national team goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang from Chunnam Dragons but Ulsan suffered from goalkeeping problems in 2006.

The midfield has a much stronger look about it this time around. Oh Jang-eun was one of the stars of 2006 for Daegu and if he can repeat his aggressive midfield play this time around then Ulsan will be delighted – he will be helped by the return of the much-under-rated 2005 captain Hyun Yong-min who spent last season in Russia with Zenit St Petersburg.

Choi Sung-kuk’s skill may be missed but Woo Sung-young knows where the goal is – if can teach his new team-mates, a good season should be in store.

Want-away winger Lee Chun-soo is still seething after his proposed move to England and Wigan fell through in January. The 25 year-old is desperate to move in the summer but if he shines before then, Ulsan fans could be smiling especially as another talented winger Chung Kyung-ho has returned from military service.

Key Player: Oh Jang-eun
Last season: 5th
Next Season: Champions

Chunnam Dragons

Could this be the year for Chunnam – a first title for Jeolla Province? The team has been busy in the transfer market and if the new signings gel then the 2006 FA Cup winners could finally make an impact in the league.

Chunnam couldn’t stop drawing last season and if the team can start to convert such results into wins then they will not be far away from the top as they don’t lose many.

Goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang has gone but the club has spent the money well. Kim Chi-woo is one of the best left-sided players in Korea and Incheon United may regret letting him go. Fellow international Kim Jin-kyu returns to his old club after a two-year spell in Japan with Jubilo Iwata.

It is in attack that the club could struggle. Sandro Hiroshi was injured for much of last season but the Japanese-Brazilian is a competent poacher.

Key Player: Sandro Hiroshi
Last Season: Sixth
Next Season: Fourth

Pohang Steelers

Pohang are in serious danger of taking over the “nearly men” tag that Ulsan had to bear until their 2005 title triumph. Only four previous titles stops the Steelers from doing so but two play-off defeats in the past three years – both at the hands of Suwon -suggests that the team is lacking something.

It probably isn’t Lee Dong-guk. The Middlesbrough striker’s contribution to the Pohang cause over the past few years has been peripheral. Without the Lion King, players such as Tavares, Hwang Jin-sung, Oh Beom-seok and Koh Ki-goo have the chance to shine.

Coach Sergio Farias is starting his third season in South Korea and has a solid base but the team still lacks the little something extra to challenge the likes of Seongnam and Suwon.

Key Player: Oh Beom-seok
Last Season: play-offs
Next Season: Fifth

FC Seoul

It will be interesting to see how Seoul perform under new coach Senol Gunes. There are some good players in the capital, not least the under-rated Kim Eun-jung. The Turk has yet to make the expected signings but perhaps he intends to develop the young talent that the club is becoming renowned for.

He will have a honeymoon period of sorts. A top six place is expected and is within reach. First though, he needs to show the fans that the team is capable of playing some entertaining football.

Much depends on the form of Park Chu-young. If the striker, still only 21, can put a difficult second season behind him (though he still managed seven goals) then Seoul have a chance.

Key Player: Park Chu-young
Last season: Play-offs
Next Season: Sixth

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors


It is debatable just how much the club’s march to the Asian Champions League title cost them in the domestic arena. 2006 was a dreadful one at home but there are no excuses this time around. As champions of Asia, the Motors have a bye into the quarter-finals of the 2007 competition.

After the money earned from the competition win and subsequent participation in FIFA’s Club World Championship, coach Choi Kang-hee talked of strengthening for the 2006 season.

After Botti left for Japan, the signings have been solid rather than spectacular - Kim Han-won from Incheon as well as Jeju pair Choi Chul-woo and Byun Jae-sub are decent players but perhaps fans in the south-west expected a little more. Still, there are some good players at the club and if the likes of Kim Hyeung-bom, Yeom Ki-hoon and Ze Carlo can show their continental form in the K-League then there could be some domestic happiness in Jeonju.

The capture of the top scorer of the Macedonian league Stevica Ristic is an interesting one and if he links up well with Ze Carlo then a good season could lie ahead.

Key Player: Kim Hyeung-beom
Last season: 11th
Next Season: Seventh

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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