The regular season of the 2006 K-League is over -now four of the fourteen teams that started the season will do battle in the championship play-offs starting on November 12.
The line-up is:
Saturday November 12
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma – FC Seoul
Sunday November 13
Suwon Samsung Bluewings – Pohang Steelers
On the final weekend of the regular season, only Seoul had yet to secure its place but did so with a sluggish 1-0 win over Gyeongnam FC on a day when the first fingers of winter could be felt by the 17,000 fans in the cavernous Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Rumours from those in the know suggest that Seoul Keluaran Sgp coach Lee Jang-soo is done for, whatever happens in the next three weeks. Fans of the club will be hoping that if he does go, he will leave the K-League trophy behind.
It is unlikely as Seoul have looked uninspired for the majority of the season and would usually come-off second best against Seongnam. However, Seongnam, having booked their play-off place months ago, have not won for the last five games – and even allowed the shot-shy Jeju United and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to score three goals each.
Whether coach Kim Hak-bom can get his players back to their form earlier in the season remains to be seen but the six-time champions are better bets to lift a seventh title than FC Seoul are to win their first (or fourth if one includes Anyang Cheetahs’ three triumphs before the club was uprooted and moved to the capital in 2004).
Suwon took the second stage with a series of effective rather than impressive performances. The same can’t be said of midfielders Lee Kwan-woo and Baek Ji-hoon who have made the difference since respectively heading north from Daejeon and south from Seoul in the summer.
Last not probably not least are Pohang Steelers, a team that has gone about its business quietly. Brazilian boss Sergio Farias has built a solid team that scores more and concedes less than most.
To make matters better, Lee Song-gook has returned to the line-up after seven months out with a torn cruciate ligament. The injury kept the Lion King out of the World Cup but he announced his return in emphatic fashion in the last game of the season. Three minutes after coming off the bench, Lee headed home to give Pohang three points at the home of champions Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i.
For those who believe in such things, some have suggested (OK, only me) that fate will propel Lee to clinch the title for his team and end what has been a miserable year on a high.
Changes to the K-League
Those boffins at the K-League like to keep things interesting. Upon realizing that the league was in danger of heading for a fourth season without being tinkered with, they got off their backsides and did something about it – for the twelfth time in 24 years.
The two-stage season has been cut back down to one but the league is hoping that the excitement will not be similarly reduced.
To such an end, one team will be promoted from the second tier N-League to expand the top flight to fifteen teams and 28 games.
The number of teams qualifying for the play-offs has been expanded to six. Concerned about attendances in the league, the powers-that-be have decided that such a move will generate more interest and excitement.
With the absence of relegation and champions league qualification, play-offs are a necessary evil in the league but extending the privilege to six – 40% of clubs – is excessive.
As that old football saying goes:
“Too many clubs spoils the play-offs.”
The biggest star in the K-League has been hit with a big ban for swearing at referee Lee Yong-chol in Ulsan’s recent 1-0 defeat at Incheon United.
Playing in his hometown, Lee took umbrage to the fact that the ref disallowed an Ulsan equaliser after Lee Jong-min bundled the ball into the net with his hand.
Lee left fly and was soon on his way off the pitch and possibly out of the K-League.
The K-League handed him a three-match ban and then his club sentenced him to three days community service.
“We’ve come to the conclusion of ordering him to take responsibility for his misconduct with the community service,” the champions said in a press release.
“His deed really disappointed fans and tarnished our club’s honour.”
Lee, who rejected a move to Portsmouth last August, was repentant – in public at least.
“I will accept my punishment,” said the baseball-cap sporting star after the hearing.
“I am very sorry. As a professional player I want to win every game and play well but what I did wasn’t necessary.
“I would like to say sorry to the fans that go to the stadium because they love football. After the sending off I reflected deeply on what I had done.”
“I’d like an opportunity to apologise to the referee directly. I will use this experience to try and become a more mature player.”
And before anybody familiar with the opinionated winger asks, no, it wasn’t possible to tell if his fingers were crossed.
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