Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Busy Korean Summer Ahead For Some

 Busan boss Hwang Sun-hong
With the temperatures and humidity levels rising all over the Korean peninsula, the nation’s players will be happy that the K-league is taking a five-week break. Recent games have seen most of the 22 on the pitch collapse on the turf in exhaustion as the referee blows his whistle to signal the end.

Not all players will be resting, 18 of them will be heading to China to play in the Beijing Olympics - more about that next week. For those left behind, and especially the coaches, there will be a lot of thinking going on over the next month. Suwon, Seongnam and Seoul may be lording it at the top of the pile but there are plenty of others not so well off.

The one with the most to consider is Hwang Sun-hong. The hero of the 2002 World Cup is one of South Korea’s best ever strikers but his first coaching job is not going so well. Busan I’Park started the season with a win on the opening day against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. 14 games later and Hwang is still looking for victory number two following four ties and ten defeats.

Busan has been unlucky at times; playing well against some of the big boys and losing to last-minute strikes. The south coast team, which contains Ahn Jung-hwan, had never been handed a heavy defeat - until last Saturday that is. That was when free-scoring Daegu FC won 4-0 at Busan’s World Cup Stadium. Three of the goals came in the final minutes as Busan desperately tried to get something out of the game. Still, it was a sobering result and the defending was enough to drive long-suffering Busan fans, and perhaps coach Hwang, to drink.

Ahead of Busan in the standings, but only just, are the three Jeolla clubs. Gwangju Sangmu is a perennial struggler and it is no surprise to see the military-run team, reliant on conscripts to the army and unable to sign players, struggle in the nether regions but more was expected of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. The Jeonju team is improving slightly but has won just four games in a season when the 2006 Asian champions was at least expected to finish in the top six with such players as Kim Hyeung-bom, Chung Kyung-ho and Cho Jae-jin on its books. Further south, Chunnam Dragons are also struggling. The Gwangyang club has never been one of the league’s big boys but three wins all season is a poor return.

Jeju United spent much of this season languishing near the bottom. Four straight wins in June and July changed all that as Brazilian boss Arthur Bernardes has the team playing some good football and the islanders are outside bets for a top six finish and a place in the play-offs. Incheon United is in the opposite situation. The west coast port city started the season on fire and won its opening three games. Only two more have followed and some of the football on display at the Munhak Stadium has not been especially exciting with an over-reliance on big Serbian striker Dzenan Radonic partly at fault.

Daejeon Citizen is a team usually tough to defeat. The Purple boys squeezed into the play-offs last season but have yet to find the same sort of form this time round. Goals are very hard to come by for Kim Ho’s team with a measly 11 netted in 15 games. A 1-0 win over Suwon the round before last was well-received but the veteran silver-haired Kim has to find some magic from somewhere over the next few weeks.

Gyeongnam FC has been in reasonable form and currently lies in sixth –the last play-off spot. The Changwon-based club has coped well after the coach and its two best players left at the end of last season and new Brazilian signing Indio is starting to impress along with young midfielder Seo Sang-min.

Up the road, Daegu is having a real roller-coaster of a season. The team has scored 31 goals, one more than leaders Suwon but the problem is the fact it has conceded 37. Games involving Daegu are usually high scoring with the Korean duo of Lee Keun-ho and Jang Nam-seok doing the damage only to look on in dismay as the defense is breached once again. If Daegu can tighten that backline without sacrificing its potency in attack, a place in the play-offs awaits.

The two South-eastern coastal cities Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Hyundai are in their usual positions of fourth and fifth. Neither team has impressed on a consistent basis but have enough good players to get the results that will put them in the play-offs. Once you book that ticket, as Pohang knows only two well, anything can happen.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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