It was not only the most dramatic last day finish in the K-League’s 30 year history but it is not easy to think of a better end to a season anywhere. Just to recap: Ulsan Horangi were five points clear at the top of the table with just two games remaining. The penultimate match came down the road at Busan, a team with nothing to play for. Ulsan took the lead on the south coast but then lost the game late on. Still, there was one more game left and it was at home to second-placed Pohang. A draw would do the hosts while the red and black visitors needed all three points.
In truth, it was a dull encounter. Ulsan didn’t attack as they usually do and Pohang struggled to penetrate the blue ranks. That all changed in the 95th minute of the final Situs Domino99 game of the season. There was a massive scramble in the Ulsan area. It was ugly and perhaps it was right to be ugly but the entire stadium held its breath as the ball bounced around the area. In the end, and it really was the end, Kim Kwang-seok scuffed a shot into the net. Five thousand Pohang fans went mad. Ulsan supporters watched in stunned silence. Suspended striker Kim Shin-wook had left the stands to make his way to the bench, putting on an Ulsan shirt on the way ready to celebrate. By the time he was pitchside, it was all over.
Three down, one up
Daejeon were dead and buried long before the end though came alive in the last few weeks to give fans something to cheer about. Daegu played some good football at times but were just too vulnerable at the back and took the second automatic relegation spot. Gangwon FC had been in great form to climb away from that drop zone but the play-off against Sangju Sangmu from the second tier went badly. A 4-1 defeat in the away leg left Gangwon with too much to do at home and the 1-0 win was nowhere near enough.
Good Draw For National Team
Belgium, Algeria and Russia. The nation was very happy with the World Cup draw on December 6 and it offers a real chance of progression though the other three members of Group H will probably be saying the same.
The only downside, apart from the lack of glamour and excitement that a draw with one of the really big boys offers, is that expectations in the Land of the Morning Calm took a serious leap as fans work up on a chilly Saturday morning in December. Even that may not be a bad thing. A little pressure never did anyone any harm and this is the World Cup after all. Next on the agenda for coach Hong Myong-bo is a January trip to Brazil and the United States. Hong will take 23 players, 20 from the K-League and three from the J-League, to South America for an eight-day training camp to get a taste of the conditions and then head north to Los Angeles and three friendly games against World Cup opposition – the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica. These matches and camp are a great chance for some domestic talent to show the boss that they deserve a place on the plane when it really matters in June.
Ki on form
Ki Sung-yeung has been in great form for Sunderland and at the end of the year had the highest pass completion rate of any player in the big leagues. A fine festive period was capped with the winning goal at Everton as the struggling Mackems pulled off a surprise result. The midfielder has continued to shine in the north-east and fans are clamouring for the club to make his loan move from Swansea a permanent deal. That may not suit either player – who does not know what league Sunderland will be playing in next season – or Swansea – who may take another look at Ki.
The biggest one is the resignation of Ulsan coach Kim Ho-gon after his team fell short of the title in surprise fashion. After taking the Tigers to the Asian title in 2012, he will be missed. Seongnam City have gone for experience in a big way and appointed legendary coach Park Jong-hwan at the age of 75. Park was popular, a legend even, in the nineties as the club picked up titles at home and in Asia. It remains to be seen how he will be thought of when his three-year contract ends just two years short of his 80th birthday.
Chinese Super League clubs have been sniffing around the K-League with FC Seoul struggling to keep their best players. Dejan Damjanovic, the top scorer in the league for the past three seasons, impressed Jiangsu Sainty so much in last season’s Asian Champions League that they paid over $4 million for the 32 year-old’s services. Seoul’s captain Ha Dae-sung was soon heading to Beijing Guoan for $4.8 million and there have been plenty of others linked with moves to the western shores of the Yellow Sea such as Mauricio Molina and Sergio Escudero in Seoul alone.
Elsewhere, Lim You-hwan has left Jeonbuk Motors for Shanghai Shenxin, though the defender had fallen out of favour at the club, while striker Kevin Oris is also in demand.