Today’s game of choice took place at Incheon United against FC Seoul in a rematch of the recent FA Cup encounter, which finished 3-2 to Seoul. The day started with a rather lengthy subway journey on Line 1 to Dowon Station. The relatively new Incheon stadium is a short walk from the station lengthened only by some Makgeolli on top of a hill but that’s another blog for another time.
I opted to buy a ticket for the East Stand, partly due to my likening for watching games from the halfway line but ultimately by the fact you can’t ‘smuggle’ beer into the away end.
Both teams came into this match having had miserable starts to the season, the fact this was a ‘basement battle’ and not a ‘top of the table tussle’ was testament to that. But Seoul were the more confident of the two, having beaten rivals Suwon in their own stadium not 6 days prior and of course knocking Incheon out the FA Cup midweek. Incheon were hoping to bounce back not only from that cup exit but also a 3-0 hammering at the hands of Pohang last weekend.
The big news before the game was that Seoul’s ‘Japanese’ forward Sergio Escudero , or as he’s now known in my house “The Slayer of Suwon”, would potentially be missing from the starting lineup. With Molina still suffering from tendonitis and Rafael Costa suffering from ‘nowhere-near-as-good-as-Dejan-itis’ this left Seoul without a recognized goal scorer up front. (Escudero did in fact make the game but was mostly a spectator in the first half).
Before kickoff, just like in the recent Suwon v Seoul Supermatch, there was a moment of tribute paid to the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster as both sets of players stood, head bowed, in silence while a reflective instrumental was played over the stadium speakers.
The game started at an alarmingly slow pace, news filtered through of Seongnam FC’s 3-1 victory over Pohang Steelers (only slightly better a name than Hull City Tigers in my opinion) and I began questioning my decision to come to Dowon. The first half continued at the slow pace it had started with and neither side looked nor seemed particularly comfortable having the ball. In fact only the ever energetic, though not entirely skillful Cha Du Ri seemed interested as he continued to run up and down the right flank. The best chance for Incheon fell to vice-captain Koo Bon Sang and with the Seoul defence at ‘sixes n sevens’ he somehow managed to blaze the ball as high as it was wide.
As per most games recently there was a respectful ‘no-chanting’ policy in place by both sets of fans, the ‘no-banner’ policy was however lifted and on the stroke of halftime a rather large banner in the Incheon ‘Ultras’ end was unfurled stating (in Korean) “Do not look down, We cry blood, Let’s run until we die, Incheon”. Inspirational words indeed as my Heineken had ran out and I had only Cass left.
The break seemed welcomed by both sets of fans, especially the Seoul contingent who made a ‘beeline’ for the single beer tent to help recover from a) being in the sun and b) being deprived of any brightness from their team.
I’m unsure if it was the ‘crying’ banner from the fans or a motivating speech from their manager but Incheon came out for the second half like an LG employee at 18:15 on a Friday night. They zipped around the park, stringing passes together like they almost knew what they were doing. Two minutes into this pulsating second half and a rather ‘saveable’ long range effort was palmed by Kim Yong Dae straight into the path of Ivo, Incheon’s Brazilian striker. He was left with a finish from roughly 2 yards that probably even Rafael Costa would’ve scored, okay maybe not quite that easy!. And so it was 1-0 Incheon. Surely now it was “Game On”, unfortunately my experience in Korea has taught me that it’s never quite “Game on” in any game in the K-League.
For the remainder of the match Seoul huffed and puffed towards the Incheon goal, the impressive ‘never-give-up’ attitude of Cha Du Ri was continually matched by his ‘never-able–to-get-a-cross-on-target” technique. There were appeals from the Seoul fans for a penalty as a rather clumsy challenge was met by an equally clumsy fall but to no avail. Incheon, to their credit, were impressive on the counter attack and managed to force Kim into two more saves from distance, both of which he held like Spiderman as opposed to Aunt May. There was one moment of Ronaldo-esque brilliance from Incheon midfielder Moon but unfortunately it was met by a Rivaldo-esque ‘fall’ by Ivo.
As the second half progressed FC Seoul were able to ‘craft’ a couple of free-kicks which contrary to the incessant “GOAL!GOAL!” chants of their fans (yes apparently this chant is allowed) did not produce such. As the game came to a close, much like an eagerly anticipated James May-Jeremy Clarkson challenge it ended with a rather predictable finish as both teams curled back into their first half shells and the game petered out.
1-0 was probably a fair result over the course of the 90 minutes, Incheon struck well on the break and Seoul looked, unlike at Suwon, a team unable to craft that one chance that would make the difference.