Even the most faithful supporters of Suwon Samsung Bluewings must have doubted the club's ability to bounce back after they had fallen to the bottom of the K-League table following six straight defeats last May. And with legendary coach Cha Bum-Kun stepping down the following month just prior to the mid-season break for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the season seemed to be all but over for the so-called 'football capital' outfit.
Although Suwon resumed their campaign with a 3-1 win at Daegu under the guidance of newly appointed coach Yoon Sung-Hyo, the nine-match unbeaten streak which followed, and which put them back in contention for the league title, seemed improbable at best. Despite a 3-0 home defeat by leaders Jeju United last week, the Bluewings are only two points adrift of sixth-placed Ulsan Horangi with seven matches remaining in the regular season.
Reinforcement in all departments
Yoon’s first defeat in charge came on 28 July, when Suwon lost 4-2 at the hands of arch-rivals FC Seoul in the League Cup semi-final in Seoul. But on the following day, a quartet of new signings were unveiled at the Big Bird stadium. Former Korea Republic internationals Shin Young-Rok and Hwang Jae-Won joined the four-time Korean champions along with Brazilian midfielder Marcio and Japanese striker Naohiro Takahara.
“I’ve always had good impressions about Suwon and I’d like to help them achieve good results as soon as possible,” said Takahara. “I’m not concerned about adapting to the tough tackles from Korean defenders because I’ve played for a long time in Argentina and Germany as well.”
With Shin and Takahara leading the attack, the Bluewings flew high during the summer recording five consecutive victories culminating in a 4-2 win over Seoul exactly one month after their loss by the same scoreline. Takahara was the hero of the match, striking twice in the closing minutes to seal the morale-boosting win in front of a record 42,377 fans at home.
Another notable achievement in the month of August was the 2-0 victory against Jeonbuk Motors in the Korean FA Cup quarter-finals that sent the reigning champions into the last four. Suwon are to face Jeju later this month following the semi-finals draw on Monday, and coach Yoon is confident about the title defence.
“We have a home advantage in the last four and we’ll be prepared well in order to win the cup. Our goal is to do it again as we did last year,” Yoon said at the post-draw press conference. “It’s good to meet Jeju again because I wanted to get our revenge for the 3-0 defeat last week. We weren’t prepared for the match because it was my first time against them but we will try to win this time around.”
However, the priority for Yoon’s charges is today's AFC Champions League quarter-final clash with domestic rivals Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, whom Suwon beat after a penalty shoot-out to win the FA Cup last year. The venue for the first leg is the very place where they lifted the trophy in November and Yoon will be looking to emulate the success against the Pegasus.
“Even if we finish sixth in the regular season of the K-League, we’ll have mountains to climb because we’ll have to play away games in the play-offs,” said Yoon, who has tasted back-to-back successes in the continental championship as assistant coach of the Bluewings in 2001 and 2002. “I think the AFC Champions League is a bigger tournament for us at the moment, and it is true that we’re focusing more on the Asian stage.”
Over the past three months, Yoon has successfully transformed Suwon into an effective unit. But his leadership will be under scrutiny over this week and the next, and if the Bluewings can manage to overcome the hurdle it would be their perfect gift for Chuseok, Thanksgiving Day in Korea.