With winter on the horizon, the big games are coming thick and fast as the end of the regular K-League season also comes into view. It is a time when some teams are going all out in an attempt to grab what is on offer while others are more concerned with protecting what they have.
For the first time since April 2007, FC Seoul is the team with the most. The capital club moved to the top of the standings on Sunday with a narrow 1-0 win over previous leaders Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.
Seoul, playing with one striker for the first time all season in the first half were nervous and Seongnam were sloppy, slow and disjointed. It wasn’t pretty but the fans who braved a chilly autumn afternoon and 87 minutes of fairly turgid football were rewarded with a moment of beauty.
Substitute striker Lee Sang-hyub connected to a deep Lee Chung-young cross inside the area to lash a left-footed volley into the back of the Seongnam net. It was Seoul’s first victory over Seongnam for three seasons and more importantly, it has made the team start to believe that it could actually win the league championship.
Fans across the Land of the Morning Calm will be tuned into their televisions on Wednesday to see if Seoul has finally managed to combine mental mettle with fancy footwork. The men in black and red make the short journey south to Suwon - the home of their fiercest rivals and closest challengers Suwon Samsung Bluewings. The two teams lie level on 48 points and only the fact that Seoul has scored one more goal puts them in pole position.
The hosts are rubbing their hands in anticipation at upsetting the Seoul bandwagon once again. Early in 2007, Seoul was riding high at the top of the table when Suwon arrived to win and send Seoul sliding down the table with a run of seven matches without a win. This season Seoul again started well and was once again defeated at home by the men in blue. The reaction in the capital was different in 2008 however as that defeat signalled the start of an impressive unbeaten run that has now stretched to an impressive 18 matches.
“Playing Seoul at home is a good chance for us to recover our first place in the league,” Suwon boss Cha Bum-keun told reporters. Since an 11-match winning streak sent Suwon nine points clear in June, the Bluewings have stuttered a little. Those recent wobbles will be forgotten and forgiven if Suwon can not only defeat Seoul but also take the top spot with two matches of the regular season remaining.
The stakes could be a little higher, but not much, especially as Seongnam is just a point behind in third place and eager to bounce back from its defeat at the weekend.
“It’s not over yet,” said a smiling Senol Gunes after the Seongnam win which provoked wild scenes of jubilation at Sangam Stadium in the north-west of the city.
“Defeating Suwon on Wednesday is a bigger target.”
Since arriving in Korea, Gunes has only won two out of nine meetings with the Bluewings. “There are still three games to go, starting with Suwon. If we win all three then we will finish in first place. The win against Seongnam is for our fans and through this kind of result we aim to attract more fans to the stadium next season.”
For now however, the focus is firmly on the end of this season. After Wednesday, there are just two games of the regular season remaining before the six-team play-off series begins. Finishing in the top two places in the K-League not only makes those play-offs significantly less taxing, it also grants access to the 2009 Asian Champions League.
As the temperatures around the southern half of the peninsula start finally to fall, the race for the K-League is getting hotter by the day.
Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com
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