Selasa, 26 Juni 2012

A Nostalgic Korean Summer

The K-League All Stars game is a regular part of the Korean football calendar and a much-loved fixture at that. The format changes as in the past, northern teams have played southern teams, the K-League team has played J-League counterparts and two years ago, even Barcelona provided the opposition.

This time though, the team lining up against the All-Stars on July 5, made up of players who won the most votes in a nationwide poll, are special. It is the 2002 World Cup team. As this month marks the tenth anniversary of that glorious run to the semi-final, the authorities have seen fit to mark the occasion with what should be a sell-out exhibition at Seoul World Cup Stadium, where the run came to an end at the hands of Germany.

It is being organized by the star of the show Ahn Jung-hwan. The recently retired striker who headed Italy out of the competition on that unforgettable night in Daejeon, an incredible night in both football terms and what happened in the country in the following hours and days, is heading the marketing campaign. He has already been seen calling captain Hong Myong-bo who then gets hold of Guus Hiddink. Both will be present.

It remains to be seen if Park Ji-sung will make it though it doesn’t look likely and Lee Young-pyo will be busy in MLS with Vancouver Whitecaps. Most of the others will be there – Seol Ki-hyeon, Kim Nam-il and Lee Woon-jae are still active in the K-League while the likes of Ahn and Song Chung-guk have just recently retired. Hwang Sun-hong and Yoo Sang-chul, who scored in the opening round 2-0 win over Poland, are now K-League coaches with Pohang Steelers and Daejeon Citizen respectively.

It promises to be quite a night.  

FA Cup fighting

There was a good deal of hand-wringing after the fist-flinging at Seoul World Cup Stadium on June 20 in the fourth round of the FA Cup between bitter rivals FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings. Once again, Suwon got the better of the capital club with a 2-0 win although the goals will not be remembered long. What will stick in the memory are 42 fouls, one red card (and there really should have been more with some of the wild challenges) and the mass brawl that broke out at the end of the game.

It didn’t stop there as Korean media reported that a Seoul marketing officials was hospitalized by a member of the Suwon staff. After a fifth straight defeat against Suwon, a number of Seoul fans then protested outside the stadium against their own team (sitting top of the league at this point) and lay down in front of the team bus.  

Back to the league

Jeonbuk Motors are the form team at the moment with five straight wins which contained 19 goals. Chile recruit Hugo Droguett has found his feet in the league and is starting to shine after a slow start. Lee Dong-gook is never far from the scoresheet and netted a hat-trick in a recent 5-3 win at home to Gyeongnam FC, goals 124, 125 and 126 in the K-League. Nobody has scored more.

 There are worries for Seongnam. Three straight defeats in the league and an elimination from the FA Cup, the club’s best hope of a place in the 2013 Asian Champions League (they were eliminated from the 2012 version recently) have put the pressure on Shin Tae-young. If it wasn’t for the fact that he had led the team to the 2010 Asian title, he may be in a little danger. As it is, he can stand by the sidelines looking annoyed.

There have been many changes at the club since that 2010 win and just as the team was starting to settle in the second half of 2011, there was another raft at the end of the season. Too many good players have left for the liking of fans who have demanded a meeting with the club.

Daejeon Citizen seem to going in the opposite direction. A truly dreadful start to the season in which they lost nine out of the first ten games, had everyone tipping the Purple Emperors for the drop. But three wins out of the last four – including a 3-0 victory at Seongnam – have seen Yoo Sang-cheol’s men start to pull away from the basement.

Belgian striker Kevin Oris has started to look very good and if former injury-prone national team midfielder Kim Hyeung-beom can keep fit and scoring the kind of screamer that did for Seongnam, the future may be bright.

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