Seongnam Hungry For Domestic Success Too

Korean Soccer

Seogwipo Stadium, Jeju Island.

K-League: Seongnam

The K-League championship play-offs have reached that stage when it becomes a little easier to explain to non-followers what is going on. And Wednesday’s clash between Jeonbuk Motors and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma at Jeonju World Cup Stadium should be one to excite even the vaguest of soccer supporters.

It is a big game in its own right but there are a number of side plots that add to the drama. The basic background is that both teams came through their first play-off tests with flying colours. Jeonbuk, who finished third at the end of the regular season, defeated sixth-place Gyeongnam FC 2-0 on Saturday afternoon.

The win was a fairly comfortably one for the men in green. Cho Sung-hwan headed home the first, a rare goal from the defender. The second goal came from a more familiar source but Eninho’s was a fine strike. The Brazilian had been tweeting all week that he was raring to go and his run and low shot from the edge of the penalty area in the second half showed that he is a man of action as well as words.

He is the team’s playmaker and if he hasn’t been quite as impressive as last season then the same can be said of Jeonbuk, though the two are not unrelated. The Motors lifted the K-League trophy in 2009 for the first time. The team it defeated in the final of that championship season was Seongnam. The Yellows have a score to settle against the Greens after losing 3-1 at the same stadium in the final game of last season.

There is more. Whichever team wins on Wednesday will not only continue in the play-offs to face Jeju United on Sunday -the winner of which progresses to the final championship decider against FC Seoul- it will also receive a place in the 2011 Asian Champions League. Seongnam won the 2010 version on November 13.

Jeonbuk won the same competition back in 2006. Back then, the champions were granted automatic entry to the following year’s edition but this is no longer the case. If Seongnam loses on Wednesday it will not be able to defend its title next year. Unsurprisingly, the club enjoyed its taste of continental glory and is hungry for more.

“We want to play in the Asian Champions League again next season,” said Seongnam coach Shin Tae-yong. “Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee is an excellent coach so we will have to prepare well for the game. We lost in the final to Jeonbuk last year and this is a game we really want to win.”

Choi is looking to lead his team to a second successive K-League title; the last team to win back-to-back trophies was Seongnam back in 2003. The coach saw his team dispatch Gyeongnam on Saturday and then turned his thoughts to Wednesday’s big game.

"It was a harder game than we expected but in front of our own fans, we showed a strong will to win. It wasn't a great performance but we got the right result. There is no time to relax as the next game takes place on Wednesday and we have to prepare for that,” said Choi.

They will have to prepare for Seongnam’s three foreign players who all scored against Ulsan. Sasa Ognenovski got the first from the penalty spot, Dzenan Radoncic fired home a rocket of a second and Mauricio Molina sealed the win.

Radoncic missed the Asian final through suspension and is hungry to make amends domestically.

“It was tough not to play in Tokyo,” said the Montenegrin striker. “So I made coach Shin a promise that I would show what I could do against Ulsan. We defeated jeonbuk this season at home and we are confident we can do so again and qualify for Asia.”

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