Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dragons' Fire Is Lukewarm

Chunnam and Melbourne in action at Gwangyang Stadium

And so it came to pass that South Korean team Chunnam Dragons were playing Melbourne Victory of Australia to preserve their faint hopes of reaching the last eight of the Asian Champions League.

Melbourne had been even worse than the Dragons in the competition but the A-League outfit at least had the excuse that it was their first time. Chunnam's centred on injuries to their best players.

Chunnam's home stadium

As excuses go, it was reasonable. The club was without three or four of its best players for every match. It doesn't however, explain why with all but one of those stars recovered, coach Park Hang-seo chose to leave out four first-team regulars. They watched the action from the stands accompanied by dried squid and ricecakes - snacks that keep mouths busy for hours.

 Korean international Kim Chi-woo wrestles with squid

There was some football to keep eyes occupied but neither team seemed especially interested playing in front of a tiny crowd in the unusual setting of Gwangyang stadium.

In the crowded country that is South Korea,few places are really remote but Gwangyang, located around the middle of the south coast, is a trek to get to -though a very pleasant one at that. The place itself is small. Basically Gwangyang is a huge steel works and container port with a small town attached.

looking behind the stadium

The stadium is on the edge of POSCO's steelworks. With the huge complex to the right behind the stadium and lush mountains to the left, the compact arena makes for a great place to watch football.

It wasn't so great last Wednesday but it was entertaining enough. Perhaps coach Park was right to field a weak team. Runaway leaders Gamba Osaka later won in Thailand to confirm their place as Group G's representative in the quarter-finals.

Chunnam coach Park Hang-seo

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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