Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reversals of fortune in Korea

Early days 

Three games down and the big story in the K League Classic is that champions FC Seoul are having problems. One point out of a possible nine was not the start that was expected. An opening day draw at home against Pohang Steelers was not a terrible start but then a first home defeat in nine years against Incheon United followed and then came a depressing 1-0 loss at Busan I’Park.

Fans are saying that the tactics and team selections are predictable and there is an over-reliance on offensive stars such as Dejan Damjanovic and Mauricio Molina and if they are not in form, which they are not, then coach Choi Yong-soo does not seem to have a plan B. If you add an out-of-form goalkeeper into the mix and have a defence looking vulnerable to counter-attacks.

The season ahead is still long as is the road back to the top and Seoul have much to work out if they are going to get there. It wasn’t necessary in 2012, the Demolition Duo was unstoppable and that may prove to be the case in 2013, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Incheon finished last season very strongly and have been the story of the new season so far with two excellent wins in Seoul and Seongnam. Coach Kim Bong-kil has the team well-organised with wide men Nam Jun-jae and Han Gyo-won looking sharp and rookie Lee Seok-hyun looking talented just behind the main striker.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma is another struggler but the seven-time champions went through something similar in 2012. Like a number of teams, there is a new coach and like almost every other team there are a lot of new players. Seongnam’s new signing Server Djeparov made his debut in the home defeat at the hands of Incheon United, scoring a late consolation goal. The Uzbekistan captain will need time to settle back in the life in Korea but when he does, he can help lift the team back closer to where it used to be.  

K League Challenge

The new second division is already on its second name as it came to be felt that using the old K League name was confusing. K League Challenge won out against K League Basic, and rightly so.

The big game of the opening weekend was the game between Anyang and Goyang (pictured left, courtesy of the K League).

 Four thousand fans turned out to watch the first professional game in the city since 2004 when Anyang Cheetahs, champions of Korea in 2000 and finalists of the Asian Club Championship a year later, were moved by conglomerate owners LG, to the capital to use the vacant Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Anyang scored inside the first minute to send the fans wild but that was the only goal of the game. It was an entertaining affair the fans went home happy and with promotion a possibility this season, there is much to play for.

  Road to Brazil approaching a crossroads

Things are not going exactly smoothly in Korea’s quest to qualify for an eighth successive World Cup. One point from the last two games has people nervous. Usually, the visit of Qatar would not be cause for concern but this is a game that Korea now see as a must-win.

Three points here and three points in Beirut in June and the last two games, both at home, against Iran and Uzbekistan will be much easier to handle. The big news was the exclusion of Park Chu-young from the squad. The former Arsenal striker has been in and out of action with Celta Vigo in Spain and while he has three goals to his name, coach Choi Kang-hee feels that it is not enough.

The other European-based stars have all been called up. Son Heung-min is still in good form in Germany with Hamburg and Koo Ja-cheol has been starring for FC Augusburg. And with Ki Sung-yeung coming off a solid first season in the English Premier League with Swansea, there should be enough talent to see off the Qataris.

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