K-League Season Review

K-League Season Review

By Seungmin Lee (follow Seungmin on twitter @kingkenny1967)

Since the 2012 K-League has started last March nine months have passed, and as this was the first time the league adopted the promotion/relegation system with brand-new ‘split’, K-League clubs were suffered under a heavy load of 44 games in total.

This change presented an even tougher season than ever for the four AFC Champions League participants. Seungmin Lee reviews each K-League team’s season.

FC Seoul were crowned 2012 K-League Champions

FC Seoul proved a point in winning the league for the second time in their history, finishing seven points ahead of Jeonbuk in second. The famous ‘Demolition’ combination – Dejan Daminovic and Maulicio Molina – scored 47 goals together, 64% of all FC Seoul’s goals this season.

Dejan set a new record with 30 goals this season and Molina did likewise with 18 assists. The only thing they couldn’t achieve was scoring against Suwon, their fiercest rival.

For Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the season got off to a tough start with terrible results in K-League and AFC Champions League but Lee Heung-sil, the former assistant coach and new gaffer finally filled the gap of Choi Kang-hee, who left to take up the head coach role for the Korean national team.

With Lee Dong-guk and Eninho upfront, they finished as the highest scoring team in the league. But Jeonbuk failed to capitalise in their most important matches when trying to catch FC Seoul, which is the reason they finished second on the table.

The spectators in the Steelyard have enjoyed this season as Pohang Steelers successfully transformed into a winning team. After their disappointing AFC Champions League campaign, the Steelers rejuventated the team and found their winning way. Even though they couldn’t bring the old famous ‘Steelers Way’ back, Hwang Sun-hong and his soldiers have shown to the K-League that they are back.

Some may want to argue that Suwon Bluewings are underachieving at the moment, as Suwon fans are facing another season without a trophy under Yoon Sung-hyo’s regime. The Bluewings reached to the 2012 Korean FA Cup Quarter Final, but they failed to get a result against Gyeongnam after the extra time and penalties. One good thing that Suwon fans can take from this season is that they had a perfect record against their biggest rivals - FC Seoul.

Ulsan Hyundai, the 2012 AFC Champions League winners, proved they were title contenders last season, given the tag of ‘Iron Mace’ football. The Horang-i has got everything – a big-and-small upfront, strong midfielders and solid four at the back. It is a mystery then why they finished in fifth position in the league table.

As previously mentioned, they have had to deal with the crammed fixtures. They played 44 rounds of the league while reaching to the semi final of KFA Cup and played all the games of 2012 AFC Champions League. It’s really hard to say that they are just the fifth best in the league.

It has been another disappointing season to Jeju United. Since they recorded the best result ever in club history in 2010, reaching to the championship decider, they have struggled to maintain consistent good form. Finishing 2011 season in ninth position, Jeju finished sixth in the K-League this season. They are good at scoring goals (65 goals scored – 3rd best in the league) but really bad at keeping the sheet clean (51 goals allowed – sixth worst in the league).

Busan struggled for goals in 2012

Busan I’Park forged a solid team in 2011 when they shocked the whole league with their ‘choking defensive football’.

But after losing Han Sang-wun, the leading goal scorer in 2011 season to Seongnam, Busan have had a hard time scoring goals.

Even they finished in the upper half of the split, their Goals For record is the second worst (36 goals) in the league. Who’s the worst? The ‘auto-relegated’ Sangju Sangmu Pheonix.

For Gyeongnam FC, it was successful season. But it could’ve been a more glorious season, when they faced Pohang in the 2012 KFA Cup Final. Their fans still lament the fact they conceded a goal to Park Sung-ho in the very last minute of the extra time. They grabbed the last spot of upper split in the last round before split, then consistently struggled for form. Gyeongnam recorded fewer points (45) than Seongnam (49), who finished the season in 13th spot.

It has been a really strange, but a memorable season all the same for Incheon United. After Huh Jung-moo’s departure, the struggling cranes flied high. They got their first away win at Suwon and Seongnam in the club history. Also, the Cranes were sitting at the edge of the upper split just before the split, but they weren’t lucky enough to keep the position. But after they fell to the lower split, they became invincible. They have got more points than Jeju in sixth, which is truly impressive. Incheon fans are hoping this form will be continued next season.

For Daegu FC, it was a mixed season. They won the games they were expected to win and lost the hard games. They have been sitting around 7th-10th throughout this season. As the only team in K-League to have a foreign coach, Moacir Pereira made the team more attractive with his Brazilian way of coaching. Still, they need a striker who can score goals more often, but there was no one like Lee Keun-ho after his departure in 2008.

It has been a tough season to Chunnam Dragons. Not many K-League fans expected them to be in relegation battle. But they couldn’t find the right balance in the team and the team started to go in the wrong direction on the table. After Jeong Hae-sung departed in August, the team lost the plot and sunk to the bottom of the league. But then former Korean international Ha Seok-joo became the new manager and rehabilitated the team to get away from the relegation zone.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, as a fan I can say they have had the worst season in club history. Seongnam fans can expect the team to be defeated with narrow score line. Particularly after entering into the lower split, Shin Tae Yong, confessed to media that he can’t find a way to motivate the team after the team collapsed to fall to the lower split. in recent years, have rejoiced at their victory against Seongnam.

Daejeon Citizen showed a good performance with Kim Hyoung-Beom, who was on loan from Jeonbuk and Kevin Oris up front. In his second season in charge Yoo Sang-Chul is doing quite well at the moment. Considering many K-League fans thought Daejeon would be relegated this season, it is a big surprise that Daejeon continued their considerable form.

Gangwon FC has had a season full of turmoil. On the ground, they were expected to be relegated next to Sangju. Also the Governor of Gangwon Province, who is the head of the club refused to pay the players for a few months. In the end, the saga was sorted out when the Chief Executive paid the money from his pocket, but all the things seemed pointed towards Gangwon being relegated. But four months ago they appointed Kim Hak-beom, the former Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma gaffer as their manager and succeeded to avoid relegation, dramatically, in the penultimate round.

For Gwangju FC fans, this season left a sour taste in their mouth. At the start of this season they flew high but soon found themselves near the relegation zone. After the split, they couldn’t manage any win except against Seongnam and Sangju. Even two wins against Sangju are automatic given Sangju boycotted the rest of the season. Despite the team’s disappointing performances, Lee Seung-ki recorded 12 assists throughout the season, which is the third best in the league.

Sangju Sangmu Pheonix’s season was similar to Gwangju’s one, except they boycotted the league after the split. K-League announced that Sangju will be relegated after the split regardless of how many points they receive, in order to follow the guidelines from AFC that all the first division teams must have professional contract with all of their players.

Sangju is a unique team that is designed to allow footballers to serve their compulsory two year military service whilst playing football under the name of military team. Under Korean law, it’s illegal to have any professional contract for anyone undertaking military service. But they will find a way to solve the problem next season, so they will participate in the new Second Division of K-League next year.

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