Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma booked their place in the K-League final by finishing top of the regular season standings on Sunday. The defending champions went into the concluding matchday one point clear of Suwon Samsung Bluewings, and with their rivals losing 1-0 to Daejeon Citizen, Seongnam consolidated pole position courtesy of a 2-0 win at Chunnam Dragons.
Seongnam will now look forward to the two-legged final in November, when they will face either runners-up Suwon or the winners of the four-team play-offs. The Bluewings also have plenty of time to prepare for the semi-final in Suwon, where they will do battle with either Ulsan Hyundai Horangi, Gyeongnam FC, Pohang Steelers, or Daejeon for the right to challenge the seven-time champions.
Ulsan leapfrogged Gyeongnam into the third place thanks to a comprehensive 4-0 victory over their South-eastern rivals in Changwon. The result means that Ulsan will play sixth-placed Daejeon at home when the play-offs begin this coming weekend, while Gyeongnam will entertain Pohang, who secured fifth place by beating Incheon United 3-2 on Sunday. The victors from these two games will then play each other to decide who will advance to the semi-final at the end of the month.
Joy for the underdogs
While Seongnam's dominance this season was predictable, no one would have anticipated a dramatic finale for Daejeon. The Purples pipped FC Seoul for the sixth and last ticket to the play-offs by virtue of goals scored, as both teams were tied on points and goal difference.
Despite starting slowly and being down in 11th position at the halfway stage in the campaign, Daejeon bounced back under the guidance of new coach Kim Ho. The veteran tactician, who led Korea Republic at the 1994 FIFA World Cup™, transformed a weak outfit into a formidable one since his appointment in July. In fact, Sunday's victory was Daejeon's fifth straight success - a club record - and it qualified them for the play-offs for the first time in their 11-year history.
Gyeongnam were also left with cause for celebration. Just as their coach Park Hang-Seo promised two years ago, the Changwon-based club claimed a place in the play-offs in only their second season in existence. They were consistent throughout the regular season, largely thanks to their Brazilian attacking duo of Cabore and Popo. The former, whom Park calls "a present from God", won the golden boot with 17 goals in 25 games, with the latter supporting his compatriot with nine assists.
In fact, foreign-born players swept the scoring charts as Denilson (Daejeon) and Dejan (Incheon) finished joint-second on 14 goals. Pohang's Tavarez set up the most goals with 11 assists in 23 games, followed by Gyeongnam's Popo (9) and Cabore (8).
K-League: Post-regular season fixtures
Saturday 20 October
Match 1: Gyeongnam FC v Pohang Steelers
Sunday 21 October
Match 2: Ulsan Hyundai Horangi v Daejeon Citizen
Sunday 28 October
Match 3: Winner Match 1 v Winner Match 2
Wednesday 31 October
Suwon Samsung Bluewings v Winner Match 3
(Dates to be confirmed)
Winner Semi-final v Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma v Winner Semi-final