Korean Ground-hopping – Week 1

It started in Suwon and ended in Tancheon, delivered fifteen goals, three penalties, one thrashing and a ridiculous away support. Yip it was the week that was last week. I set out to attend as many games as I could in a week and in a journey that took in pretty much three of the four ends of the Seoul subway system I managed to see six matches in total, or five and a half if I’m honest about The Supermatch.

So where else to begin than that one at Suwon.

 

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Suwon 5 Seoul 1 (April 18th 2015)

I made the journey down to Suwon pretty early on the Saturday morning, more full of the previous night’s whisky than hope. Seoul had been poor up until this one but then they had been in the same boat this time last year too and they managed to win 1-0 thanks to an Escudero goal, by about 4:15 most Seoul fans must have been wishing they could see the Japanese just one more time. The big news at kick-off was that Park Chu Young hadn’t made the starting lineup but Molina was included and this gave some hope to the sea of red and black. I didn’t take long for that hope to seem as distant as any chance Seoul have of winning the league this year. A pretty harmless ball into the box was nodded down by the hugely impressive Chong Tae Se and it was scrambled over the line b Lee Sang Ho for 1-0 Suwon. You could already sense it was going to be one of those matches and even though Molina leveled the scoreline on half-time with a trademark free-kick it didn’t do much to ease the negative atmosphere, though in fairness that might just have been me. The second half was barely 10 mins old and it was 3-1 Suwon after two quick goals in succession, with the third a cracking but defensible header from a Suwon corner. At this point I left in search of a more painless way to finish my day and so missed an impressive Chong Tae Se double to end the rout and confirm Suwon’s bragging rights for the next few months. It may have finished 5-1 but to be honest it could have been any number and Choi has his work cut out for him this season to stop this going down as one of the worst in recent memory.

 

Next up was a trip to the end of line 3 and a K-League Challenge adventure.

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Goyang Hi 0 Daegu 2 (April 20th 2015)

This match had the honour of being my first Challenge match in Goyang Stadium (I attended an Asian Games match there last year) and the first live stadium podcast by the 48 Shades of Football podcast. It was a long trip from my home to the ground but it is a pretty good area once you step off the Daewha platform. I arrived earlier than anyone else so found a CU outside the station and decided to nurse a cold Cass until the boys arrived. Once we had re-grouped we headed in to the stadium a tad early which resulted in us being the only people there apart from the players themselves. Being presented with an empty stadium throws up more problems than you think but we eventually settled on a spot near the halfway line and got ready for a night of football thrills and podcast puns. The first half finished pretty much an even match with the hosts perhaps just shading it. This was to change in the second half when Daegu seemed to sense Goyang “there for the taking” and threw men forward. They were rewarded on the 75th minute when the free -scoring Johnathon fired in a free-kick which looked like it could have been stopped by either the wall or the keeper. Goyang tried to hit back but Daegu kept them mostly on the backfoot and it was no real surprise when they doubled their lead, this one a cracking turn and shot in the box by No Byung Jun. The podcast continued and as the match finished up we sought solace in a gazebo to finish off both the night’s recording and extra beers. It was a good trip up to the outskirts and even though the return journey is a tad long involving running to make last minute transfers it’s definitely a place I’ll be returning to in the future.

After watching the best both Korean leagues had to offer the next stop was the dizzy heights of the Asian Champions league and two games in two nights.

First up on the Tuesday it was the visit of the free-spending millionaires of Evergrande.

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Seoul 0 Guangzhou Evergrande 0 (April 21st 2015)

So after watching Seoul falter and fail against Suwon a mere three days earlier I dragged myself along to the Seoul World Cup Stadium to see them take on undoubtedly the biggest spenders in Asian football. Evergrande spent an obscene amount of money in the close season in an attempt to win back the ACL crown they so meekly lost last year, so far it hasn’t exactly been a roaring success. The news prior to kick-off was that Cha Du Ri was injured and with Park Chu Young ineligible Seoul’s task looked near impossible. Upon entering the stadium the Seoul fans were met with a wall of red facing them as Evergrande seemed to have round up everybody they could find and stuffed them into a red top. It was an impressive sight and was going to to prove to probably be the main talking point of the night. It took a total of 20 minutes for all the away fans to finally enter, get seated and begin to chant for their team. Its just a shame neither team had brought their shooting boots with them as not for the first time this year in the ACL we were served up with a rather pedestrian 0-0 draw. Both teams probably had chances to win the match but in truth neither team really needed to secure the three points with both perhaps confident that results in the final group match will ensure progress to the last 16.

 

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Seongnam 2 Buriram 1 (April 22nd 2015)

Much had been made of the first match between the two teams where Seongnam had put in a defensive display that the 3 Stooges would have been too embarrassed to put their name to. Seongnam had since then gone on an unbeaten run in the ACL with a home victory over Gamba followed by 4 pts from the Guangzhou R&F double-header. Seongnam had obviously disappointed themselves in the match in Thailand and even the marketing for the match referenced notions of ‘Revenge’.

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Seongnam started the match brightly much like they had done against Gamba and pressed Buriram high up the pitch while also containing them well the odd time they managed to attack. There was just 30 mins on the clock when a fairly harmless looking Kim Do Heon shot struck an arm and the referee pointed at the spot. The captain, having won the penalty, took it himself and calmly slotted it home for 1-0. Seongnam kept pushing forward and after just 10 mins were rewarded with a second, Nam Jun Jae getting up to head a Kim Do Heon free-kick past the flailing keeper and it was 2-0. Buriram pulled one back in the second half and after that the game kind of petered out. Seongnam hung on to record the victory that secured them a spot in the last 16 and with it making them the first “Citizens” club to progress so far. On their performance so far in the group matches and with ‘Fortress Tancheon’ earning it’s name you wouldn’t put it past them to take their run a little further.

After the ACL it was back to business and the ‘bread and butter’ of the K-League. First up was a trip down to Incheon and then finally a return to Tancheon to top of a week of football.

Incheon 1 Pohang 1 (April 25th 2015)

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Incheon is one of my favourite stadiums to go in Korea to watch football. The stands are built right on the pitch and it gives you a feel similar to those back home although a little emptier than I was accustomed to. This match had the potential to be a cracker, Pohang had rediscovered their form at last and Incheon are never particularly easy to beat at home. The first half was one of the best 45 mins of football I’ve seen in the K-League this season. Both teams started brightly with Incheon looking especially up for it. they had the ball in the back of the net in the first 10 mins but it was chopped off for offside much to the dismay of the Incheon fans around me. Next up it was Pohang’s turn to first elate then deflate their fans as they won a rather ‘soft’ penalty only for Tiago Alves to blast it over the bar. It was the kind of penalty that made Roberto Baggio’s effort at USA 90 seem close. This got Incheon firing again and within minutes they were 1-0 up, Kim Jin Hwan firing home for the hosts. Initially after the goal Pohang looked shell-shocked but they dragged themselves back into the match and Tiago went some way to make up for his earlier howler but cracking a shot from the edge of the box in off the far post and it was 1-1. We went into HT level and as I said earlier it was a cracking first half. But if the first half was good the second was abysmal. It was the kind of half that you wished you had listened to the missus when she asked you to join her for an afternoon of Hugh Grant movies. There was nothing much to talk about and both sets of fans left neither happy nor sad come the final whistle. I made my way back to Dowon Station and the generally long ride and inevitable having to stand up that makes this a depressing return home from any match.

 Seongnam 1 Jeju 1 (April 26th 2015)

Photo by @chiefinkorea
Photo by @chiefinkorea

 

And so it was that Tanchwon would be the final venue for the week long football extravaganza. Seongnam had been buoyed by the last 16 achievement and were of course going to ‘milk it’ as much as possible. This match had been marketed as ‘picnic day’, ‘celebration of last 16 day’ and a few other names too and it had to be said upon arrival there was more of a carnival atmosphere outside than usual. We had Nanta style drummers, Ball Beer girls and a few other events all happening outside the main ticket office. There was also a rather comical show inside involving a foreigner trying to squeeze into a Korean 110 sized Seongnam home shirt, of no wait that was me. Thankfully it didn’t rip and I was able to hand it back to the retailer albeit a rather more sheepish than when I first confidently asked to try it on. Onto to the match itself and it was a reasonably entertaining affair. Jeju are a good team and Seongnam are organized. They set out their stall to contain and counter whenever possible, its a tactic that works well and I think one that we will see throughout the rest of the season. It was Jeju who led at half-time through a sweet edge of the box strike from Ricardo Lopes. It was probably a deserved lead and it did take a little of the shine of the pre-match events. The biggest surprise before the match was that captain Kim Do Heon hadn’t made the starting eleven though I guess after his midweek exertions it shouldn’t have been so surprising. He was brought on at half-time in a bid to both tighten up and also spur on the Seongnam midfield. He was involved in most of their forward play and after Ricardo (I think) was tripped in the box he stepped up and yet again confidently nestled the ball in the back of the net. He has shown in glimpses so far this season why Tony Mowbray took him to WBA and  think if he continues to perform the way he has Seongnam will be safe from any relegation battle. The game finished 1-1 and it was soon time to head back along three subway lines to the confines of The Wolfhound in Itaewon and a couple more cold OBs.

So there it is 6 games in 9 days and although it took several subway lines, several hangovers and definitely too many beers it was a worthwhile week and one I’m sure my liver is just itching for me to repeat again next month.  Next up for me is a midweek FA Cup match at Seoul, followed by the Seoul v Seongnam match and then a flight to Osaka to take in Seongnam’s final ACL group match.

 

 

 

 

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