K-League Challenge 2017 Final Weekend Preview

 

This weekend sees the final round of the K-League Challenge and there are still two playoff spots up for grabs as Asan, Seongnam and Bucheon all fight for the right to face-off to see who will play Busan and ultimately the lowest placed Classic club to join Gyeongnam at the top table of the K-League Classic. Gyeongnam and Busan have been running away with things at the top of the table for what seems like the full year while everyone else (well maybe not Daejeon) have been making up the numbers in the race for best of the rest. After some surprising results on Saturday past it was left to Seongnam only needing a win to clinch one of the spots, alas they failed to show up yet again which sets up the 3 team battle in the final week. With the table looking like this……

 

The Challenge table heading into the final round.

Below is a preview of the teams involved and predictions for their final positions.

 

Asan Mugunghwa FC

The Police team have, for the most part, performed better this season than their flailing Army counterparts in the Classic. They recently saw a four game winning streak come to an end as they lost at home to Champions Gyeongnam after being 2-1 up with only 30 mins to play. They of course won the league last year under the guise of Ansan Mugunghwa but were prohibited from promotion due to some ‘office politics’ involving Ansan wanting their own team. This year they have flirted between 3rd and 5th pretty much since the season began and would surely consider it a failure if they were to fall out of the playoffs now. Their final game is away to 2nd placed Busan who are in FA Cup semi-final action this midweek against Suwon Bluewings, defeat there might just knock their confidence a little. Busan have won two and drawn three against the Police this year, can they go undefeated?

Prediction : 3rd (should probably have enough to come back from Busan with a point)

 

Seongnam FC

The team in the Challenge that most expected to bounce straight back up have been beyond poor this season, they started with a goal drought which lasted for what must have felt like an eternity to their fans during which time fan favoutite and focal point Hwang Uijo was transferred to Gamba Osaka. They then dumbfounded most by going on a run of fourteen games unbeaten including eight victories which clawed them into playoff contention. In recent weeks though they’ve looked devoid of both imagination and confidence and look like a team in a downward spiral, not too dis-similar to this time last year. They’ll need to find huge performances from somewhere if they are to claim the ultimate prize of playoff glory. Seongnam have arguably the hardest match of the three as they travel to champions Gyeongnam who don’t appear to be letting up. Seongnam have failed to win against Gyeongnam this season but did draw 1-1 in Changwon earlier in the year.

Prediction: 5th (a draw might not be enough)

 

Bucheon 1995

The final team vying for the playoffs is Bucheon FC who will be hoping to go one step further than last year when they lost in the playoff semi-final to Gangwon FC. This year they have been in and around playoff contention for the best part of the season, sitting between 3rd and 4th. They have a relatively strong squad and probably play some of the most attractive free-flowing football in the league although this does tend to leave them exposed at the back at times. In Waguininho they have one of the top goalscorers in the league and, along with Kim Shin, is definitely the one to watch. They travel to E-Land having lost heavily there back in August, E-Land have only their pride to play for but as we seen with Daejeon last weekend that can often be enough to squeeze a performance out.

Prediction : 4th (they have the easiest task of the three teams and should have enough to get the result)

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Five things we learnt from Round 1

K-League ClassicWeek one of the new school year is often a revision week of what was covered last year and, for the most part, so it proved during the opening round of K League Classic as we learnt that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Here we outline five facts that we (re)learnt this week.

gold-number-5

 

1. When the bats are away the footballs will play. 

Just like the opening round last year attendances were up across the K-League Classic with a whopping 32,000+ taking in Jeonbuk v Seoul and a ‘sold-out’ Tancheon soaking up Seongnam v Suwon Bluewings, but before anyone gets too carried away and we all rush to contact Fernando Torres’ agent to offer him the 100,000 a week he is looking for it should be noted that their was a distinct lack of baseball on offer last weekend. Not that we at 48 Shades are implying that the average Korean football fan is of the ‘fair-weather’ kind of course, merely that when it’s the only show in town we can almost fill a stadium. Of course an empty seat is probably still preferable to a phone-hugging rounders-watcher pretending to be interested in the game every time the crowd makes a noise.

Maybe dual fans can have their cake and eat it!
Maybe dual fans can have their cake and eat it!

 

2. Uli Stelike has the best eyesight in the land.

At 48 Shades we like to call a spade a spade and have at times flirted with controversy with our comments about one Mr. Stelike and his penchant for selecting anyone who plays outside of Korea so it was good to see him lapping up the atmosphere of Jeonnam v Suwon FC on Sunday although you could perhaps wonder who exactly he was ‘scouting’ in this one. He seemed to be a little vexed looking when the JTBC cameras darted to him during a lull in the 2nd half which may have been him trying to figure out what actual sport he was watching as it barely qualified as football such was the lack of apparent skill and passion being displayed on the pitch. Now the more cynical among us might try to claim that his attendance at this match was nothing more than a PR stunt with it being Suwon FC’s first game in the Classic and that he was in fact vexed as he couldn’t find coverage of the J2 on his cellphone.

Uli Stielike

3. Ulsan 2016 look more Ulsan 2015 than Ulsan 2013

Last year was one to forget for those of an Ulsan persuasion and it was with high expectations that they welcomed a new season and a fresh assault on the title. They must have been buoyed when the fixture list threw up a clash against Sangju (see post 5 for potential reasons for said clash being first ‘out of the hat’). It took roughly an hour for those expectations to be brought crashing down as they succumbed to a rather lackluster 2-0 defeat. Sure they were without the talismanic Wookie upfront but it really did look as if they had been briefed by the local kimbap vendor before kick-off. You do get the feeling that they could be in for another long and hard season if they can’t shore up defence, toughen up the midfield and actually find Lee Jeong Hyeop with a pass.

Ulsan's new strikeforce
Ulsan’s new strikeforce

4.  Seoul can’t escape their reputation as slow-starters

After two electrifying performances to open their ACL campaign in which they scored six goals away against the champions of Thailand and four goals at home against the Champions of Japan, Seoul’s fans were upbeat about their chances in R1 against Jeonbuk and travelled down in droves.  Although this was arguably their toughest fixture of the season they were bright enough for the first 20 minutes but ultimately key players like Adriano and Shin Jin-ho were a shade of their ACL selves.  Seoul huffed and puffed for 90 minutes but there was more lacking from the team than just white collars on the ACL strip.  The fact that they went out four days later and scored four goals away against China’s third placed team just left Seoul fans scratching their head about why they start each league season so poorly and hoping that the hangover won’t continue this week against Sangju.  Expect this item to become a meme in the coming weeks…

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Choi gives an inspirational HT team talk

5. Jeonbuk get a lot of soft decisions in their favour

You would think that being owned by the company that also owns the company that has been the league’s main sponsor for the past six years and has also sponsored the referees and whose chairman, Chung Mong-Joon, was chairman of the KFA and a vice-president of FIFA until he got a 6 year ban from all football activities for corruption would mean that you might benefit from a bit of favouritism on the pitch.  Unfortunately for Ulsan Hyundai, as we established just now, they are cack.  On the other hand, Jeonbuk Motors, which is owned by  his nephew and is a subsidiary of his elder brother’s company quite often seem to get the rub of the green. (Editor’s note: Groan!)

Whatever strange forces are at work, the 48 Shades boys have noted on numerous occasions that the ref seems to giving soft decisions to Jeonbuk and not much in favour of the opposition.  Anyway, if the opposition are Jeonbuk expect penalties and free-kicks galore every time the Wookie trips over his shoelaces and nothing for when Leonardo goes all Mutant Ninja Turtle on your best striker. They say that what goes around, comes around but that’s only true in this case if you transfer to another club and line up against Jeonbuk…

Jeonbuk launch a new joint venture to boost brandng
Jeonbuk launch a new joint venture to boost brandng