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FA Cup: A history of the FA Cup + Round of 16 previews

There's something special about cup tournaments that no other sporting events can fully grasp. Whether it's the unfancied underdog slaying the titan or a clash of two heavy-weights desperate for silverware, cup tournaments offer something unique. They offer countless opportunities - either for players struggling for playing time in the league, or for teams - giants or mid-table, and sometimes from lower tiers - to dream of a glorious night at the Final and have their team's engraved on silverware. Football is better for cup tournaments, regardless of the league or country.

Korea's FA Cup has a long and storied history, one that stretches deep into the dark times of Japanese colonial rule. The All-Joseon Football Tournament had its inaugural edition in 1921, welcoming youth, university and amateur clubs under the supervision of the Joseon Sports Council. Oddly enough, there isn't any record of an official winner for this tournament, and a bit more research reveals that officials had to field complaints from various teams that led them to not declare an official winner.

After halting in 1940 for the Second World War (and later in 1950 and 1952 for the Korean War), the newly-formed Korean Football Association created the National Football Championship. This effectively became the most prestigious tournament in Korean football, as there was no established league at the time.

However, in future decades, it came into competition with the K League (formed in 1983) and many clubs elected to ditch this tournament for the K League. In the late 90's, the K League clubs officially split from the National Football Championship (after participating for a couple editions in the 80's) and the KFA created a whole new FA Cup. It was only in 2000 that the new FA Cup and the National Football Championship merged together to form the present-day incarnation of the FA Cup.

This merger of what had become the professional and amateur cup tournaments perhaps explains the presence of university clubs in the Korean FA Cup. Indeed, it appears to be an oddity for distinguished cup tournaments to include university teams, as they are not officially part of the football pyramid of most countries. An example of this is in England, where a certain "Team Bath", a club affiliated with the University of Bath, climbed its way up the English football pyramid until they reached the Conference South in 2008, after which they were disbanded by the Football Conference for their unique financial situation. Team Bath actually did make a First Round Proper appearance in the English FA Cup, a first for an university team since the 1800s. Simply put, university team participation in the Korean FA Cups is an unusual oddity of the Korean footballing system, but one I believe we should all embrace.

But back to more recent history. In the last 9 editions, FA Cup champions have come from Seongnam, Suwon, Pohang or Jeonnam. Despite the Korean FA Cup offering an opportunity for the generally weaker sides - the citizen clubs - to hoist silverware, only two have done it since the merger. In 2001, the Daejeon Citizen triumphed thanks to club legend Kim Eun-jung's goal on 53 minutes. It remains, to this day, the only major trophy (apart from the K League Challenge title) that the Chungcheong club have won. A more recent example of a citizen club success is of course Seongnam FC. The reigning champions of the FA Cup defied the odds in their first season without conglomerate ownership by slaying FC Seoul at the Seoul Jamsil World Cup Stadium on penalties to come out winners last season.

Now that the obligatory history lesson is over, let's get on to the action of this year's tournament!

It all started back in March. The first round pitted the lowest-ranked 4 Challengers League teams (4th tier), the lowest-ranked 4 University teams and the 8 Amateur clubs from various conglomerates. You know the first round isn't something exactly on the front page of the paper when Shinan Salt Korea FC and Mokpo Christian Hospital FC are taking part. The second round welcomed the rest of the University and Challengers League teams, whilst the third round welcomed the National League and K League Challenge squads into the competition. Sangju Sangmu was stunned by Gyeongju Hydro Korea & Nuclear Power, while Seoul E-Land won their first ever game in their history in this round as well.

The Round of 32 saw the final 12 teams enter into the competition, obviously from the K League Classic. The big losers of the round were Busan I'Park (falling to the sole remaining K League Challenge side, Gangwon FC) and Suwon Samsung (falling on penalties to Jeonnam).

And then there were 16...

So without further ado, here are the fixtures for the Round of 16 of the Korean FA Cup. I'm told there will be individual previews for a few of the games, so without going too in-depth, I'll just give a short preview of each game that doesn't have an individual preview scheduled.

Daejeon Korail vs Jeju United (number 64)
There are a few David vs Goliath's in this draw, and this is certainly one of them. Daejeon Korail are a National League side who currently sit 4th in the 3rd tier. They are coming off of a victory in the National League's own mini-League Cup over Ulsan Mipo. Korail are no stranger to upsets - in fact, they have defeated the feared Suwon Bluewings on two occasions in previous installations of this very tournament. Look for attacking midfielder Kim Dong-ok as well as former Daegu strikers Cho Hyeong-ik and Han Seung-yeop to be the threats going forward.

Jeju, on the other hand, have to deal with two injuries in attack, notably that of Fernando Karanga and Kang Soo-il. The latter is at the centre of the infamous mustache-gate, where he tested positive for an illegal substance he insists was in his hair-growing tonic. Regardless, Kang must now serve a lengthy 15-game ban. In defense, there are frailities too, with the island side conceding 8 goals in their last three games. Their road record is also among one of the worst in the league.

Seongnam FC vs Yeungnam University (number 65)
The holders Seongnam FC are a team you can't help but have some respect for. Under the well-coached guidance of Kim Hak-bum, the citizen side from one of Seoul's satellite cities have only recently finished their Asian Champions League honeymoon (one they earned after winning this tournament last year) after even beating the mighty Guangzhou Evergrande (only one game, though). You can bet after a thrilling experience in this tournament that saw them grow as a team and in (some) spectators, the Magpies will be desperate to defend their crown in Seoul come the fall.

Seongnam will have to go through Yeungnam University. To many casual observers of Korean football, this name draws a blank, but actually, it was this very University club that made headlines by being the first ever University team to make the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup. Lo and behold, one year later, the Gyeongsang Province based team is in the latter stages of the Cup again. Both times, they have taken advantage of favorable draws to make a deep run, but it is worth noting that Yeungnam is a powerhouse in their division of the U-League (University League) and haven't lost a game all season. Top scorer Lee Joong-seo has found the back of the net 10 times in as many games. Can Yeungnam exact revenge on their defeat at the hands of Seongnam one year prior and shock the country with a victory at the Tancheon Fortress?

Chungju Hummel vs Jeonnam Dragons (number 66)

Cheonan City vs Incheon United (number 67)
Cheonan City are quite frankly having a disastrous season in the National League. They have only one victory in the league this season, and sit a mere point above rock bottom in Korea's third tier. Incheon, with one of the best defenses in the league, should prevail in this match. Anything else would be a major shock.

Gangwon FC - Ulsan Mipo Dockyard Dolphin whatever their name is (number 68)
The sole representative of the K League Challenge, Gangwon haven't necessarily had an easy road to the Round of 16. They had to defeat fellow K League Challengers Gyeongnam in the Third Round, at a time when most of the K League Challenge teams were playing universities or lower level minnows, and then had to slay top tier side Busan I'Park. But, despite the two tough fixtures and their second-to-last ranking in the K League Challenge, they are here.

Ulsan Mipo Dockyard have had a near flawless season in the National League to date. They only have one loss in league play and made the finals of a fairly random June tournament for the National League. They too also have a history of playing giant-killer.

Hwaseong FC - FC Seoul (number 69)

Pohang Steelers - Jeonbuk Hyundai (number 70)

Ulsan Hyundai - Daejeon Citizen (number 71)

The matches will be played on June 24th.

Quarterfinal(on 22nd July)
The winner of the number 64 vs The winner of the number 67
The winner of the number 65 vs The winner of the number 71
The winner of the number 69 vs The winner of the number 70
The winner of the number 68 vs The winner of the number 66

There's certainly lots of action to look forward to as we get into the latter stages of this year's Korean FA Cup! Who will reign supreme and book a ticket to the Asian Champions League this fall? Only time will tell if it will be a powerhouse or yet another underdog such as Seongnam.

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