Monday, September 24, 2012

Splits, boycotts and redemption

The K-League is coming to terms with its first-ever split and it quite likes the feeling. At the end of August, the 16 team league divided in two, just like the Scottish Premier League does. Four teams were in the running for the eighth spot going into game 30 but it fell to Gyeongnam FC and they celebrated like they had won the league.

There was a good deal of media attention and authorities were feeling pretty good about it all but this being the K-League, there was a twist. Sangju Sangmu decided to boycott the rest of the season. It wasn't because the military club was in the bottom half and consigned to playing the seven other teams another two times to see who finishes bottom but due to the fact that whatever they did on the pitch, they were going down.

The AFC stipulates that the top tier of professional leagues should have professional clubs with professional players on professional contracts and the fact that Sangju's players are loaned from their original clubs for two years as they complete their military service. They are paid the same as regular conscripts i.e. not very much at all. Confirmation in mid-September that they will fill one of the two relegation spots -the trapdoor is installed for the first time ever - led to the boycott.

"The Armed Forces Athletic Corps and the Defense Ministry held talks today, and we've decided not to play the rest of the season," Lee Jae-cheol, the team's general manager said on September 12. "We just don't have the motivation to play out the season. The ministry is adamant about this.

"The K-League doesn't want to have anything to do with us, and I see no reason why we should stick around anymore," Lee said. "Rather than playing in the second division, perhaps we should declare ourselves amateurs and play with them instead."

Sangju were second bottom anyway and could have gone down, it was the lack of fighting change they objected to. From now, their fixtures will be awarded to the other team with a 2-0 scoreline.

Gangwon FC currently prop up the table and are four points from safety. Fans hope that coach Kim Hak-beom, who returned to the K-League in July after a spell in China can take the team up the standings. "We're in last place, and we can only go up from here," Kim said. "And I am confident we can do that. We don't want to be the first victim of relegation."

Dejan Damjanovic
FC Seoul and Jeonbuk Motors have no such worries as they fight it out at the top of the table in what has become a two-horse race for the championship. Seoul are five points clear of the champions. Striker Dejan Damjanovic is still scoring goals for fun with 24 to his name this season. The capital club are the team to beat. It all may come down to the two games against Jeonbuk.

The Motors were looking imperious earlier in the summer but have developed a recent habit of losing to lesser teams. There is then quite a gap between the top two and the chasing pack. Ulsan, Suwon and Pohang are now fighting for the final Asian Champions League spot and they are separated by four points only. 


Tales from Tashkent

The road to Brazil 2014 remains fairly comfortable at the moment for the Taeguk Warrriors who followed up two wins that opened Group A in the final round of qualification with a 2-2 draw in Uzbekistan. The point maintains the three points lead that the team has at the top. It wasn’t a great performance and an inability to defend set pieces cost Choi Kang-hee’s men. A trip to Tehran comes in October and a good result in the Iranian capital could really set Korea up nicely for the second half of the group.  

Overseas players

It has been a pretty good start to the European season for many of the country’s stars out west. Park Ji-sung has had a mixed time at Queen’s Park Rangers but at least is playing every game. His performance against Chelsea was an impressive one and he raised a few eyebrows by refusing to shake the hand of John Terry. It showed a different side of the player, one ready to take the responsibility of being a captain of a Premier League team.

Park Chu-young has left Arsenal on loan and is enjoying himself in La Liga with Celta Vigo. He scored his first goal for the Spanish club on September 22, with a fine volley against Getafe that won the game for the newly-promoted club. It was a great start in his attemtpt to put the nightmare of Arsenal behind him and show fans in Spain and in England what he is capable of.

Ki Sung-yueng started his first game for Swansea City on the same day. His team slumped to a 3-0 defeat at home to Everton. It wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds – for the player that is, it was bad for the Swans – as he provided one of the few positives. He looked good on the ball, passed it well and on another day, could have scored one or two.

Son Heung-min scored twice for Hamburg in a thrilling 3-2 win over champions Borussia Dortmund. It was Hamburg’s first win of the season and Dortmund’s first defeat while Kim Bo-kyoung is still adapting to life in the English championship with Cardiff City.

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