K-League Challenge 2017 Playoffs
International football? Son Heung Min braces? All this will pale into insignificance come mid-week as the 2017 K-League Playoffs begin with Asan Mugunghwa FC welcoming Seongnam FC to town to see who has the pleasure of travelling to the Gudeok Stadium on Saturday to face runners-up and FA Cup finalists Busan FC. It’s been a long season for both teams and after an incredibly tense last round of fixtures it was Asan who secured 3rd place in the league with Seongnam securing the final spot as they claimed fourth. The playoffs have thrown up some fantastic matches of late such as Gwangju humbling Gyeongnam, the 3-3 Battle of Suwon and of course last year’s Tears in Tancheon as Seongnam were relegated….what will this year give us?
Asan v Seongnam (Wed @ 7pm)
All eyes will be on the Yishunshin Stadium on Wednesday night as 3rd placed Asan will prepare for the visit of 4th placed Seongnam for the first of this year’s playoff fixtures. Hosts Asan come into the match on the back of a 1-1 away draw at Busan where they fought back from a goal behind courtesy of a 67th minute Lee Jae An penalty. They have won four of their last six fixtures during which time they lost to Champions Gyeongnam and drew with Runners-up Busan, that’s the kind of run that must fill a team with some degree of confidence. They may very well feel like they have a point to prove after missing out on automatic promotion last year and having to watch from the sidelines stole their glory.
Seongnam on the other hand have had a less than stellar run-in with only two victories in the last six, although one of them was against Asan. As bad as that run sounds their only defeat did come at the hands of Gyeongnam on the final day with the other three matches being draws. Now for the uninitiated it is important to remember that in the playoffs the home team has the advantage with a draw being enough to see them through to the next round. So you can understand a certain amount of fear sneaking into the visitors as they exit the tunnel come 7pm. Seongnam boast a proud history and there is the fear that a second season in the Challenge could see that consigned to memory.
Head to Head
The head to head is firmly stacked in Seongnam’s favour with three wins and one draw for the boys in black this year. They won both their home matches 1-0, goals from Park Sung Ho and Kim Dong Chan respectively. The fixtures in Asan finished 1-1 and 2-0 with Hwang Euijo scoring his final goal for the club in the first clash, albeit from the penalty spot. So on the back of that the boys from Tacheon should be coming into the match feeling relatively comfortable although as mentioned above on recent form they shouldn’t be approaching any match with confidence. It should also be noted that the 1-1 draw in the first meeting of the year would result in Asan packing their toothbrushes for Busan and Park Kyung Hoon being told to pack his bags permanently.
This is one of those ‘heart or head’ situations which makes it a doubly difficult match to call. On form even the most optimistic of Seongnam fans, and there aren’t many, would have to call Asan favorites whereas on paper Seongnam do have the stronger squad. As obvious as this may sound a lot will boil down to how well the key players perform. Seongnam will obviously look for big performances from Kim Dong Chan and Park Sung Ho but for me a lot could rest of the guile and skill of their Slovakian winger Filip Hlohovsky. He’s been off the boil since he missed a penalty down in Suwon but, as was evident against Bucheon, there is no denying he can be a match winner. Asan will of course be hoping that top-scorer Han Eui-Kwon has brought his shooting boots on the day and he will be their main target man over the 90 minutes.
It’s going to be a close and defintely tense affair that’s for certain and a lot will come down to who draws first blood. If Seongnam score first and Asan have to chase the game we could well see Hlohovsky and Kim Dong Chan exploit the gaps, if Asan score first I fear that Seongnam will retreat into their shell and try ‘route one football’ with punts up the pitch to Park Sung Ho.
Prediction : The head wins : Score Draw : Asan 1 Seongnam 1