Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Comings and Goings in South Korea

Hong Comes Home

After 135 caps, and spells in charge of the Under-20 and Under-23 national teams, Hong Myong-bo is now the head coach of the South Korean senior side. The charismatic captain of the 2002 semi-final reaching squad, the ex-defender was always going to become the main man, it was just a question of when.

It is now. He has a lot of work to do. With less than a year to the World Cup he has to take a team that struggled and stumbled along the road to Brazil and turn it into a Taeguk Warriors machine that can get past the group stage in South America. Fans believe and the KFA hopes that he can do it. After all, he led the Under-20s to the last eight at the 2009 World Cup and more famously, brought home the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics.

Choi goes home

After 18 months of mild torture, some for the fans but mostly for the man himself, Choi Kang-hee has returned to his true love Jeonbuk Motors. The former international defender was appointed under duress in December 2011 and always planned to return to Jeonju at the end of qualification. That was achieved on June 18 by the narrowest of goal difference margins. Fans were not sorry to see Choi leave and the KFA made no effort to persuade him otherwise. The football had not been great and the results were just enough. In the end, both sides were relieved to part ways.

He returned to a Jeonbuk team struggling. The team’s previous two games had seen a remarkable 4-1 defeat suffered at home to the low-scoring Busan I’Park and then came a wild 5-4 loss at rivals Suwon. Choi had planned a week’s holiday after the end of his national team contract but decided he was needed as soon as possible. Fans and players were happy to see him and the team responded with a thumping 4-0 win over Gyeongnam.

Tight at the top

At the end of June, six points separate the top six teams in the K-League Classic. Pohang Steelers had threatened to pull away but have dropped eight points from the last 15 – nothing to worry about too much but a source of frustration for the three-time continental champions. Ulsan Horang-I are second and looking good. The Tigers are in good form and welcoming players back from injury such as Brazilian goalgetter Rafinha. With Kim Shin-wook finding the net of a regular basis and the defence usually - apart from a recent 5-3 loss to lowly Daegu - is pretty solid.

Incheon United have been the surprise package of the season and currently sit in third. Young stars such as Lee Seok-hoon have impressed. Lee scored both goals in the recent win over Pohang Steelers, the winner a spectacular 25 yarder that flew past the goalkeeper. Lee 2002 midfielder Kim Nam-il has been a steady presence with another veteran Lee Chun-soo coming back to Korean football and performing solidly. If Lee can recreate his form circa 2005 to 2007 then Incheon really will fancy their chances of a top three finish. Especially as FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings are more inconsistent that the runny tofu so beloved in Korea. Seoul recovered, of a sort, from a very poor start but all is not well. The team is predictable and with star striker Dejan Damjanovic, was lacking of ideas in a recent defeat against Ulsan.

Suwon have won just one of the last six and have a number of injuries and there are rumours that overseas players could be on their way with Stevica Ristic set to head to pastures new, probably in China. There are uncertain times.

Battle at the Bottom

Daejeon Citizen and Daegu FC are rooted to the bottom. Daejeon look to be in serious trouble with no wins in eleven and the club looking lost. New coach Kim In-wan has not got any kind of grip on the job and fans are understandably growing restless. Daegu are in slightly better shape and at least seem to be playing a little better from earlier in the season. The club have some decent attacking talent.

Gangwon FC are doing their utmost to pull away. Kim Hak-beom’s men have been playing well at various times all season but have not often got the points deserved in return. That all changed at the end of June with a vital 2-1 win over Suwon. It could be a turning point.

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