Two of the biggest matches in the K-League will unfold this weekend, with Suwon Bluewings meeting FC Seoul before Pohang Steelers face Ulsan Horangi. Although the latter fixture may take a lesser billing, it still promises to be a mouth-watering duel. FIFA.com reflects on the tale of the east-coast derby.
While the city of Pohang has always been the Steelers' home since their 1973 inception, the Tigers only settled in Ulsan 20 years ago after a series of moves around the Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces during the 1980s. The following decade saw the two clubs fighting for the right to be called the kings of the south-east. Pohang won their third K-League title in 1992, before Ulsan lifted their first trophy four years later.
The two-legged play-off between the sides in 1998 is regarded by many as one of the true classics in South Korean football, and the origin of the rivalry. Pohang came from behind to claim a dramatic 3-2 win at home, before going down 2-1 in Ulsan and ultimately losing on penalties.
The transfer of former Korea Republic goalkeeper Kim Byung-Ji from Ulsan to Pohang before the 2001 season not only intensified the rivalry between the supporters, but also gave birth to ‘the curse of Kim Byung-Ji’, given that the Tigers struggled against the Steelers for a long period thereafter. The curse was finally lifted in 2005, which was coincidentally Kim’s last season with Pohang, when Ulsan ended the title drought by claiming their second championship despite losing all three matches against their arch-enemies in the process.
Facts and figures
Over the course of 27 seasons, Pohang and Ulsan have faced each other 110 times in all domestic competitions, with the Steelers recording 47 wins, 32 draws and 31 defeats against the Tigers.
Pohang also hold the edge in terms of silverware. The Steelers have won the K-League four times, two Korean FA Cups and two league cups as well as three AFC Asian Club Championships, while the Tigers have won the national championship twice, one Super Cup, one League Cup and the A3 Champions Cup.
Tales of the derbies past
On 21 October 1998, Pohang took on Ulsan in the K-League semi-final, first leg at the Pohang Steelyard. With the sides tied at 1-1 after 89 minutes, Choi Moon-Sik put the hosts ahead after picking up a neat pass from Baek Seung-Chul. But there was still time for a dramatic end, as Kim Jong-Gun headed home the equaliser three minutes into the added time before Baek made it 3-2 for the visitors with a brilliant goal in the 96th minute.
Three days later in Ulsan, the score was 1-1 again when Park Tae-Ha equalised for Pohang with only five minutes remaining. The hosts were desperate to score, and just as the clock stopped on 90 minutes, ponytailed goalkeeper Kim Byung-Ji rose highest to head home a Kim Hyun-Suk free-kick and make it 4-4 on aggregate. Kim not only become the first goalkeeper to score in the K-League, but guided his side to the final with a heroic performance in the subsequent penalty shoot-out.
It took six years for Pohang to get their revenge for the famous defeat, by beating Ulsan 1-0 in the K-League 2004 semi-final. And more recently, the Steelers defeated the Tigers 2-1 in the second round of the play-offs en route to winning their fourth domestic title in 2007.
The rivalry today
Pohang shave uccessfully translated their dominance of the K-League on to the international stage, and they claimed their third continental title last year before seizing bronze at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009. Meanwhile, Ulsan are transforming into a more attack-minded side under newly-appointed coach Kim Ho-Gon, after being eliminated in the group stage of the AFC Champions League last year.
There was another player who drove National Route 7 to join the other side, as former Pohang defender Oh Beom-Seok returned from Krylia Sovetov Samara to sign for none other than Ulsan last year. Oh set up Ulsan’s equaliser to hold his former club to a 1-1 draw in his return to the Steelyard in May, and it would be interesting to see if the Korea Republic right-back can add spice to the rivalry in the derbies to come.