Monday, March 19, 2007

K-League Getting Into Groove

K League
The 2007 K-League season is slowly starting to get into its stride. The first three rounds have contained a reasonable amount of goals and excitement as the
Korean media and coaches have been telling everybody who will listen. It is early days. Encouragingly perhaps, most of the good stuff has been shown by
the bigger clubs in the league. What is definitely promising is that those clubs have also been getting good results too. Seoul, Ulsan, Seongnam, Pohang and Suwon make up the top five and it will be no surprise at all if that same quintet is doesn’t change much from now until November.

Seoul are the pacesetters and are the only perfect pick from the bunch. Even more ominous for the others is the fact that new coach Senol Gunes has yet to see his team concede a goal in 270 minutes of league football. The Turk, like many other coaches pre-season, has promised entertaining football and the team are trying – though at the moment they can only do so in fits and starts.

Seoul have yet to meet any of the big boys however – in fact none of the top five have played each other yet. Hopefully the best is yet to come. The biggest news of the past week was not the K-League or Park Ji-sung scoring two goals for Manchester United but Ahn Jung-hwan’s hat-trick in the Hauzen Cup.

The first round of the competition saw Suwon’s traditional bogey team Daejeon Citizen visit the ‘Big Bird’ Stadium. Ahn took the purple hearts apart with a display of clinical offensive play not often seen in the K-League since, well, since he left in 2000.

Two calm finishes in one-on-one situations sandwiched a sweet half-volley from a narrow angle. Instead of kissing his wedding ring as in days of yore, Ahn celebrated his goals by kissing his index finger – the nation does not yet know the reason for this change!

It was inevitable then that calls for national team coach Pim Verbeek to include
the striker in his squad to face Uruguay on March 24 increased. "As soon as
he comes back to Korea, everybody wants him back in the national team," Verbeek
told me earlier in the month.

"So do I, but not immediately. I wanted to take
some pressure from him. We have time to find out if he is the same as in 2006
and before that." As it turned out, it was too soon for the “Lord of the Ring”
but if he continues to perform domestically, few would bet against him playing
some part in the Asian Cup this summer.
He will have to watch from the sidelines on Saturday as will experienced midfielder Kim Nam-il. Ahn’s Suwon team-mate was stretchered off the pitch in last Saturday’s 1-0 win over K-League with a neck injury.
His place will be taken by new boy Son Dae-ho of Seongnam – a
midfielder that was impressive form in the second half of last season and the
beginning of this. The Seongnam new boy will be finding his way around Paju
National Football Center along with Kim Chang-soo of Daejeon Citizen, Kang Min-soo
of Chunnam Dragons and Ki Sung-young of FC Seoul.
South Korea Squad:
: Kim Yong-dae (Seongnam), Kim Young-kwang (Ulsan), Jung Sung-ryeong
DF: Kim Chi-kon (Seoul) Kim Chi-woo, Kim Jin-kyu and
Kang Min-su (all Chunnam), Lee Young-pyo (Tottenham, England) Oh Beom-seok (Pohang)
Kim Dong-jin (Zenit, Russia) Kim Chang-soo (Daejeon)
MF: Kim
Doo-hyun, Kim Sang-shik, Son Dae-ho (All Seongna) Baek Ji-hoon (Suwon) Kim Jung-woo
(Nagoya, Japan) Ki Sung-young (Seoul) Oh Jang-eun (Ulsan) Lee Ho (Zenit, Russia)
FW: Cho Jae-jin (Shimizu, Japan) Jung Jo-gook (Seoul) Lee Chun-soo
(Ulsan) Park Ji-sung (Manchester United, England) Seol Ki-hyeon (Reading, England)
Yeom Ki-hoon (Jeonbuk) Choi Sung-kuk (Seongnam)

It's 'snow' joke
The Asian Champions League started on March 7 with two of South Korea’s three
representatives in action – champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have a bye to the
quarter-finals. Chunnam Dragons made their debut in the competition by failing
to defeat Bangkok University.
The hosts were the happier of the two with the
goalless draw as they made the Korean FA Cup holders look very average on a
sultry Thai night. Conditions were a little different back home where Seongnam
Ilwha Chunam started their campaign with a easy-looking game with Vietnamese
outfit Dong Tam Long An.
It was a cold day just to the south of Seoul and the seven-time champions were confident of handing their opponents a sound beating.

About 30 minutes before kick-off however, it started to snow and the white stuff
just kept on coming. By kick-off the pitch was just about playable but ten minutes
into the game it was impossible to see any markings as the white carpet got
thicker and thicker.
Nobody thought to use a coloured ball and instead we were
treated to players gingerly walking around in a blizzard trying to find a white
sphere on a white background.
“Obviously it was very difficult for Dong Tam coming from Vietnam,” said Seongnam coach Kim Hak-beom with just a little understatement.
“These were the worst conditions I have ever seen.” Most of the visiting players
had never even seen snow before and it was a heavy fall even by Korean and other
standards too.
Seongnam striker Kim Dong-hyun spent last season in Russia but
said: “I never saw anything like this.” The seven-time champions won 4-1 but
the Vietnamese coaching staff, the ones not tucked beneath blankets on the bench
that is., were obviously unhappy at the start of the second half and it looked
as if the game would be abandoned. AFC and perhaps other officials intervened
and the ‘game’ restarted. “It was a mistake to continue in these conditions,”
said Portuguese coach Henrique Calisto. “My players have never experienced anything
like this before. “When Seongnam come to Vietnam we will show them some nice
and warm weather and hopefully a good game”

Copyright: John Duerden &

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