Friday, June 29, 2007

Deja Vu In K-League

Deja Vu In K-League


Anybody who left Korea in November 2006 as the soccer season ended and returned in the much balmier month of June as the 2007 version reached its halfway point could be forgiven for experiencing a little deja vu.

Champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are still on top, 2006 runners-up Suwon Samsung Bluewings are still vainly chasing in second place and Gwangju Sangmu is still locked at the bottom.

There is no more domestic action until August when the league resumes. Until then, the plaudits rest squarely on the garish yellow shirted-shoulders of Seongnam.

K League
Steady and smooth, without being spectacular, the club soars at the summit. All 13 K-League teams have faced the seven-time champions so far this season and none have triumphed.

In fact, only four — Pohang, Chunnam, Daejeon and Seoul — have managed to avoid defeat.

At the same time, coach Kim Hak-beom steered his team to the quarter finals of the Asian Champions League and there is a real chance that the continental title could be heading to the satellite city just south of the capital next November.

The secret to Seongnam’s success is no secret at all.

Coach Kim has good players in a settled and balanced lineup.

Over the first 13 games, the club has fielded less players than any other in a league in which some clubs have been known to use almost 40 players over the course of a season.

Closest challengers are Suwon - the one team that comes anywhere close to Seongnam in terms of consistency.

An oft-leveled charge against Suwon coach Cha Bum-keun is that the team is less than the sum of its total parts, but the stars are starting to perform.

More of the same and the passionate Suwon fans will be satisfied at the end of the season.

Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I, the 2005 champions, started with three victories from the first four games but two points from the middle five sent the Tigers tumbling down the standings.

Ulsan rallied to win three out of the final quartet of games to give a pleasing symmetry to the first half of the season.

Fans in the southeast may have seen the last of star attacker Lee Chun-soo, who is expected to head to the English Premier League before the second half of the season resumes.

What wasn’t expected was the freescoring exploits of Gyeongnam FC.

The southerners, in just their second season in existence, stormed into the top echelons of the league, propelled on the back of a stack of goals from Brazilian duo Popo and Cabore.

The two biggest disappointments have been FC Seoul and Pohang Steelers. Both clubs won three out of the first four and then went into freefall.

Seoul, under the Turkish tutelage of Senol Gunes, proceeded to go the next six games goalless and still hasn’t collected three points since March.

If misery loves company then the Steelers have been loyal bedfellows and the two need to improve in the second half of the season.

Busan confusion

At the bottom, Busan is one place above the basement-dwellers of Gwangju Sangmu.

Busan boss Andy Egli caused some confusion by telling Sports Seoul on June 25 that he was packing it all in.

"As coach I am responsible for the poor results,” the Swiss boss said.

“After the American training camp ends on July 5th, I will head home to Switzerland where I plan to take a rest.”

“Problems have been piling up since November both on the field and with the club and recently they have got worse.”

The day after however, the ex-FC Thun coach told Swiss daily 'Blick' that: "I have offered my resignation. Now they have to decide if I am the right man despite the poor results.

"I would love to continue my work in Busan. There are 13 rounds to play and we are still in the Cup. There are a lot of opportunities."

"Until now I did not receive an answer to my offer of resignation."

The club claims to have no knowledge of any resignation.

To the west, Gwangju are at rock bottom.It took the military club 13 games to pick up its first win and very few fans in the southwest will be looking forward to the second half of the season. It all starts again on Aug. 8.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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