Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Foreign Stars Shine Before Independence Day

top five K-League goalscorers

With South Korea preparing to celebrate independence from Japan on August 15, it is, perhaps, a little ironic that the K-League relies upon foreign players for a sizeable percentage of its goals.

It has been well-documented that South Korea scored a measly three times in six Asian Cup games last month. Departing coach Pim Verbeek blamed the goal drought partly on the scarcity of Koreans scoring goals domestically.

The Dutchman has a point. The top eight goalscorers in the K League all hail from South American and south-eastern Europe, not from Seoul or Busan. The highest ranked Korean is Daegu's Lee Kun-ho way down in ninth.

The top five can be seen in the graphic above (put together by Sports Chosun). From left to right they are Cabore (Brazil –Gyeongnam), Stevica Ristic (Macedonia –Jeonbuk), Dejan Damjanovic (Serbia –Incheon), Mota (Brazil –Seongnam) and Denilson (Brazil –Daejeon).

Below is a graph that shows the percentage of total goals scored by overseas players. Own goals are excepted as are any scored by military team Gwangju Sangmu who aren’t allowed any foreign players –though their need is greater than most.

percentage of total K-League goals scored by foreign players

Top Two To Meet

Those wonderful waegookins will be in action on Wednesday night as 14 teams in the K-League do their thing on the pitch.

Since the end of the midsummer break last week, two rounds of games have suggested that spectators up and down the southern half of the Korean peninsula could be treated to a feast of fine football, excitement and perhaps even goals in the coming weeks.

It is unfortunate for Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma that the team which finishes top of the standings after 26 games doesn’t automatically win the title, though that fact will bother the other 13 clubs a little less. As the regular season ends, the top six teams will enter the championship play-off series in November.

After the resumption of the league, Seongnam have moved even further ahead at the top of the league and the seven-time title-winners are now nine points clear of Suwon Samsung Bluewings in second.

The two meet at Suwon's 'Big Bird' World Cup Stadium in front of what should be a large and passionate crowd. A win for Suwon will keep faint hopes of replacing Seongnam on the summit alive. A repeat of the 3-1 defeat suffered in the first meeting between the pair in April however, will virtually seal top spot for the yellow machine that has not tasted defeat in the K-League for 22 games.

While the clash of the big boys takes top billing, there is still a good deal of action on offer a little lower down the table as the battle to gain a foothold in the top six increases in intensity.

FC Seoul went ten games without a win in the first stage but has started the second half of the season brightly. A home game against bottom club Gwangju Sangmu tonight provides an excellent opportunity for another victory. Just to the west, Incheon United has also collected four points in the last seven days and three more at home to fellow play-off hopefuls Chunnam Dragons will be welcome.

Asian champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have looked sharp since the break, picking up an impressive 3-2 win at Suwon last Wednesday and will be looking for another victory at Pohang Steelers. The Jeonju outfit traded Yeom Ki-hoon for fellow winger Chung Kyung-ho in the summer and look to have got the best of the deal and not just because Yeom has a broken heel and will likely miss the rest of the season. In the 180 minutes Chung has played since moving to the south-west city, he has already shown the form that made him one of Korea’s brightest prospects two or three years ago.

With Chung wreaking havoc on the wing, the sublime Kim Hyeung-bum returning to fitness after a long-term injury and the energetic Kwon-jib returning to form in midfield, Jeonbuk look well-placed for the play-offs as well as an Asian Champions League quarter-final with Japanese champions Urawa Reds in September.

The rest of the action takes place in the deep south-east. Gyeongnam FC has so far struggled to reproduce its performances of earlier in the season and faces a tough task at home to a resurgent Daejeon Citizen, now coached by old warhorse Kim Ho. The former national team coach saw his new team shock usual contenders Pohang Steelers with a 3-0 victory on Sunday. Elsewhere, third-placed Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I face coachless Busan I’Park and Daegu FC take on Jeju United.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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