Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Suwon Splutter While Seongnam Soar



It has been a strange K-League season. The constant stopping and starting has robbed the competition of any momentum. A series of World Cup qualifiers in May and June necessitated a break of a month and by the time play started again in July, the Olympic torch was lit in Beijing and tools were downed once more.

Beijing 2008 will receive barely a footnote in the annals of South Korean football history. The draw, defeat and win may have been a better record than any other Asian nation managed in China, including the hosts, but it still meant that the team returned home at the end of the first round.

Coach Park Sung-hwa is escaping to study in England. The one-time Busan boss is a man with many friends in the upper echelons of the Seoul media but couldn’t escape a good deal of criticism. What made it worse, for football fans at least, was the fact that the baseball team returned across the Yellow Sea with gold and met with a heroes welcome.

The 2002 World Cup gave the world the understandable, but misleading, impression that South Korea was a football mad country. It is not. Baseball is more popular. Even before the gold, television ratings are usually around 60% higher for the average baseball match and attendances tend to be higher.

Those Olympic events, coupled with the plodding performances of the senior national team, have led certain sections of the media to say that football is in crisis. Again, it is not but the K-League has some work to do to work its way to somewhere near the hearts and minds of the locals.

Not in Suwon though – the city is still a strong football bedrock in the Land of the Morning Calm. The Bluewings regularly play in front of 30,000 or more and 2008 has been a season to remember for those followers. They watched their team put together a record-breaking 11 match winning streak that sent them nine points clear at the top. If it wasn’t for the play-off system and the fact that there aren’t really bookies in Korea in the English sense, the bookies would have considered paying out.

Suwon players in happier days

To say it has all gone wrong is an overstatement. With three-quarters of the regular season over, Suwon are level on points at the top with Seongnam Ilwha Chunma but the aura of invincibility disappeared in July along with the monsoon weather. A 1-0 defeat at the hands of the struggling Daejeon Citizen was a surprise rather than a shock - Daejeon have a good record against the three-time champions - but what followed was a defeat at home by the same scoreline to rivals Seongnam.

Suddenly the goals from star strikers Edu, Shin Young-rok and Seo Dong-hyun dried up. Only a last-minute strike against bottom club Busan avoided a shock defeat and while Suwon are still guaranteed a play-off spot, form must improve if a fourth title is on the cards. The news that star summer signing Lee Chun-soo is injured doesn't help.

In five games, Suwon have collected just four points. Every team has a blip and as it comes after a run of 33 from 33, it is not a disaster but in the meantime, Seongnam have been on fire. The seven-time champions have won six out of their last seven.

Despite the broken rib of star striker Mota, Seongnam have barely broken their stride. Youngster Han Dong-won has chipped in with three goals in the last two games. Seongnam are looking fresh and confident while Suwon are spluttering. Worse for Suwon is the fact that bitter rivals FC Seoul are in good form and not that far behind in third.

If that doesn’t get the Bluewings fired up for this weekend’s clash on the southern island of Jeju, nothing will.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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2 comments:

Paul said...

The fact that the K-League employs the playoff system, a system used by baseball leagues throughout the world, is a reflection of the greater influence that baseball has on Korean sports.

xav said...

Hello !
I didn't read of the article. I am here because i was seaching for soccer supporter scarves. I was interested by fc seoul, but i think i could prefer suwon team now ! I already stayed in suwon several week.
Do you know some website, in english language on wich i could buy this kind of scarves ?
Thank you in advance for your help on this !
xav (france)