Thursday, March 6, 2008

K-League 2008 Season Preview

K-League 2008 Season Preview.
1. Suwon Samsung Bluewings (last season 2)
Solid Suwon will be there or thereabouts. The defence is not getting any younger but still contains Lee Woon-jae in goal and the inspirational Mato Neretjlak at centre-back. The midfield boasts Lee Kwan-woo and Baek Ji-hoon but no longer South Korea captain Kim Nam-il. The combative Kim has headed to Japan and Vissel Kobe and it will be interesting to see how North Korean international An Yong-hak does in his place. Ahn Jung-hwan has left but after scoring no league goals last season, the Lord of the Rings will not be missed. Suwon’s one weakness could be a lack of firepower in front of goal.

Key Player: Lee Kwan-woo
Coach: Cha Bum-keun

2. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (1)
The seven-time champions lost the title in the play-offs last season but have been strangely quiet in the close-season. Star midfielder Kim Do-heon has joined West Bromich Albion and fellow international and goalkeeper Kim Yong-dae has cropped his Beatles mop-top and started his two-year stint at military team Gwangju Sangmu. Kim has been replaced by Jung Sung-ryeong. The Olympic goalkeeper aside, incomings haven’t been inspiring and it remains to be seen if the club can stay at the top.

Key Player: Kim Sang-sik
Coach: Kim Hak-beom

3. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (8)
It was another disappointing domestic season for the 2006 Asian Champions but there are positive signs for the coming year. That is mainly because Cho Jae-jin has signed on the dotted line in Jeonju. The striker’s three years near the top of the scoring charts in Japan with Shimizu S-Pulse are not quite enough to erase memories of not many goals during his time in Korea and also were not quite enough to earn a big-money move to England. He has something to prove and if he finds his shooting boots then Jeonbuk will have a very interesting forward line of Macedonian marksman Stevica Ristic and Ze Carlo of Brazil. For the first time since 1996, Jeonbuk will start the season without defender Choi Jin-cheul who has retired after over 300 appearances for the club.

Key Player: Kim Hyung-beom
Coach: Choi Kang-hee

4. Pohang Steelers (5)
The champions actually finished with a negative goal difference in 2007 and only made the play-offs on the last day. The team caught fire in the championship series however, disposing of Gyeongnam, Ulsan, Suwon and finally Seongnam, all away from home. Popular playmaker Taveres has left for Brazilian club Internacional but Daejeon’s deadly Denilson should be an adequate replacement. The striker found the target 14 times last season. Since the title triumph, young stars such as Park Won-jae, Hwang Ji-soo and Hwang Jae-won have seen international action. It promises to be a good season.

Key Player: Denilson
Coach: Sergio Farias

5. FC Seoul (7)
2007 was a real roller-coaster ride for the club. New boss Senol Gunes seemed to have a magic touch when he arrived and led the club to top of the league after the first month. Then it all went wrong as the strikers couldn’t score and the players couldn’t stay fit. The big-money move of the winter was the capture of Serbian striker Dejan Damjanovic from Incheon United. If he can forge a good partnership with the inury-prone Park Chu-young then a play-off place beckons for the capital outfit.

Key Player: Ki Sung-yong
Coach: Senol Gunes

6. Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I (3)
Ulsan are never far away from the summit of the league but the team just doesn’t have the same look of quality in-depth that it had when back in the championship year of 2005. All three Brazilians have left with Almir the one that will be missed the most. The capture of Luisinho, prolific in Daegu last year, should help fans cope with that loss. There is a little staleness about the team and the Tigers need to sharpen their claws if they are to make it a second title in four seasons.

Key Player: Luisinho
Coach: Kim Jung-nam

7. Chunnam Dragons (10)
Despite lifting two FA Cups in the last two seasons, the South Jeolla club has struggled in the league. Defeating Pohang Steelers in the cup final in December was the last act of coach Huh Jung-moo before he left to take the reins of the national team. Since then, Huh has been calling up a number of Dragons to the national side which begs the question that if there were so many good players at the club then why did they finish in tenth last season? The capture of coach Park Hang-seo should be a positive one as is the signing of Brazilian striker Schuba. Chunnam should finish higher than last season.

Key Player: Kwak Tae-hwi
Coach: Park Hang-seo

8. Daejeon Citizen (6)
Deajeon have seen all three foreigners leaves in the last few months. The afore-mentioned Denilson is the biggest loss but Chunnam-bound Schuba looked very good in the second half of last season. That was when 1994 World Cup boss Kim Ho took over. The wily old fox somehow steered the club into the play-offs but that was as good as it got. Kim has brought in some new faces this season. Much depends on how they settle but a top six finish could be beyond the central club in 2008.

Key Player: Kim Hyung-il
Coach: Kim Ho

9. Incheon United (9)
Last season was ultimately disappointing for the bad boys of Korean football. For so long, the team was within touching distance of a play-off place only to fall away on the final day. The loss of Damjanovic is a big blow. Coach Jang Woe-ryeong, who has returned from a year's sabbatical in England, has yet to spend the money from that sale.

Key Player: Dragan Mladenovic
Coach: Jang Woe-ryeong

10. Jeju United (11)
Jeju are another team that have suddenly enjoyed a much-increased representation on the national team. The signs are that the island club could have a reasonable 2008 after two turgid terms since relocating from Bucheon in 2006. Many eyes will be on new – and fairly unknown – coach Brazilian Arthur Bernardes. He has brought in a couple of compatriots too but how the club’s young Korean prospects fare is of more interest this season. A mid-table finish will be satisfactory for the club.

Key Player: Ka Ju-cheol
Coach: Arthur Bernardes

11. Gyeongnam FC (4)
Losing a coach is unfortunate. Losing a coach, playmaker and top scorer is downright careless and it will be a miracle if the Changwon club reproduces the fourth place finish of 2007. Boss Park Hang-seo fell foul of the politics at the club and moved to Chunnam. K-League top scorer Cabore shamelessly engineered a big-money move to FC Tokyo while Popo, acting with considerably more honour than his compatriot, will also be in Japan next season with Kashiwa Reysol. Replacement coach Jo Kwang-rae is not one to get hearts racing near the south coast and it could be a long hard season for the club.

Key Player: Kim Jin-yong
Coach: Jo Kwang-rae

12. Busan I’Park (13)
The south coast has a new coach and the return of an old hero for the new season. The past two seasons have been fairly wretched for Busan but the appointment of 2002 World Cup star and South Korean legend Hwang Sun-hong made lots of headlines. One of the first things that the 39 year-old did was trade midfielder An Yong-hak for 2002 team-mate Ahn Jung-hwan. The Lord of the Ring made his name in Busan in the nineties and the former giant of Korean and Asian football needs some big performances from the aging attacker.

Key Player: Ahn Jung-hwan
Coach: Hwang Sun-hong

13. Daegu (12)
Despite some good goalscoring performances from Luisinho and young Korean star Lee Keun-ho, Daegu struggled last season under new coach Byun Byung-joo. One half of the partnership has gone. The Brazilian was tempted to make the short journey to Ulsan and will be missed. The club have a history of finding reasonably good Brazilian imports and much depends as to the quality of this year’s batch – Alexandro and Joao Silva.

Key Player: Lee Keun-ho
Coach: Byun Byung-joo

14. Gwangju (14)
What is there to say about the military club and perennial basement-dwellers? Any place above 14th is a bonus. That is more of a possibility this time round as South Korean goalkeeper Kim Yong-dae is now enlisted. It is tough for the army boys; half of the playing staff leaves every season and returns to their original club.
Key Player: Kim Yong-dae
Coach: Lee Kang-jo

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