Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Seoul set for K-League success

Dejan Damjanovic
Who can stop the Demolition Duo? Nobody so far this season and time is running out. Dejan Damjanovic and Mauricio Molina have spearheaded FC Seoul's frontline to devastating effect in 2012 and with eight games remaining; the club is seven points clear of Jeonbuk in second. With the two meeting at Jeonju World Cup Stadium this weekend, the feeling is that if the Motors don’t take maximum points, then the title race is going to grind to a halt.

Damjanovic was at it again last weekend as Seoul picked up three points as the always tricky away trip to Jeju United. The Montenegrin got both goals in that 2-1 victory, numbers 26 and 27 of the season. He has already broken the total goalscoring record for a foreigner in the K-League that stood at 116. Molina, has contributed 17 himself, and his all-round play has created plenty for others.

Coach Choi Yong-soo has been criticized in some quarters for relying too much of the pair but when they are in such blistering form, he is not about to change now. 12 wins from the last 15 games shows that the team are on track for a second title.

Jeonbuk have managed to keep pace, kind of, in second partly thanks to some generous refereeing. Of late, the Motors have often had the luxury of playing against teams that lose a man or more thanks to a red card. In the team’s last three wins, the opposition have seen red no less than five times. And then a trip to Ulsan, a team without its national team players and in the middle of vital Asian Champions League knockout matches, came at exactly the right time. Those three points kept Jeonbuk in the race but they can’t afford any more slip-ups.

The rest are nowhere as far as the title goes. Third place and a 2013 Asian Champions League slot is what it is now all about and it is looking good for Suwon, three points clear. Ulsan are still in with a shout but have fallen behind due to continental and international commitments and Pohang have already qualified for next year's ACL thanks to last weekend’s FA Cup win.

At the bottom, Sangju Sangmu are already down leaving Gangwon, Gwangju and Chunnam Dragons fighting to avoid the second spot. Chunnam probably have a little too much quality but for the other two, anything could happen. Both have started to improve lately. The K-League;s first ever relegation struggle could be one to remember.

Third FA Cup for Pohang Steelers

It was cruel for Gyeongnam FC. The Cup final on October 20 was the biggest match in the club’s history. A chance for a first trophy and also a place in the 2013 Asian Champions League - glory awaited at the Steelyard. Gyeongnam had their chances in a poor game with Brazilian striker Caique going the closest as he rounded the goalkeeper only to shoot into the side-netting.

It was a costly miss. In the 120th minute and a penalty shootout looming, Park Sang-ho rose to head a free-kick into the top corner of the Gyeongnam goal. Cue wild celebrations from the Pohang fans, players and bench. The match was barely allowed to restart before the referee blew for full-time and a third triumph for the Steelers.

Kim Byung-ji makes 600

The Limahl-style hairstyle is not what it was but the 42 year-old goalkeeper is still going strong and recently passed the 600 appearance mark in the K-League. He is not about to stop now and wants 700. “ My goal is to To be the oldest K-League player. Shin Ui-Son has it now but I'll overtake him in two years. In that time I could reach 700 appearances," said Kim.

World Cup Woe

It was always going to be the toughest match of the qualification campaign to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Korea arrived in Iran top of Group A and left in the same position. That was perhaps the only positive. A 1-0 defeat did not go down well in Seoul.

In front of 105,000 fans at the Azadi Stadium, the Taeguk Warriors had chances to win. Twice in the first half, they hit the bar from close range but in truth, it was a plodding performance. Going forward, Korea were predictable, aiming long balls at tall striker Kim Shin-wook and hoping to feed off the knockdowns that never came.

And then in defence, the team’s persistent inability to defend set pieces cost them again when Javad Nekounam was left unmarked in the area to fire home a low shot.

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