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2016 K-League Challenge: Ones To Watch (Part 2 - Defenders)

Photo courtesy: Korean Times
Life as a Challenge defender is a fairly unglamourous one, and the guys at the back never quite get the adulation or attention that their more creative team-mates attract. The role they play is no less important though and it's likely that whoever comes out on top in the promotion race will have their defence to thank for picking up hard-fought points over the course of the season.

As with most other areas of the pitch there has been a fair amount of turnover in the defensive ranks. Looking at my team of 2015 it's been pretty much all change. The official K-League selection is equally decimated. With Sangju in the Classic their string of top-class defenders have exited the League which means Lee Yong, Park Jin-po and Kang Min-su will no longer be gracing the Challenge. US import Austin Berry has returned to his homeland following an impressive season at Anyang and Hwang Do-yeon returned to Jeju although he should be part of the Police side in 2016.

The teams have pretty active in the transfer window however so there is plenty of defensive talent left in the league. I've picked out the names that I will be keeping an eye on in 2016 below:

Kim Dong-chul (Seoul E-Land FC)

E-Land's defence looked a bit shaky at times during their 2015 campaign and their promotion push will rely on tightening up at the back if it's to be successful this term. To address this Martin Rennie has brought in Kim Dong-chul from Jeonnam Dragons to marshal the backline.

The 25-year-old has plenty of Classic experience with 70 starts for Jeonnam and is a pretty solid defender who has added some tough tackling and solidity to the games so far in pre-season. If Kim can settle in to what will be most likely be an almost entirely new-look back four then he could be exactly what E-Land need to shore up the defences.

Wanderson (Daejeon Citizen)

The debate continues to rage about whether Wanderson is actually a defender since Daejeon preferred to use him in a much more advanced role for most of last season but since he was nominally listed as a defender and since it's much easier to find interesting front men to discuss we'll use him here anyway.

It was a bit of a surprise that the Brazilian stuck around for another season in the Challenge with Daejeon as it looked like an exit was on the cards along with the rest of the foreign contingent. With six goals in 15 games for Citizen last season he's likely to have a major contribution to make.

Kim Dong-jin (Seoul E-Land FC)

Few players in the K-League (let alone the Challenge) can boast as many honours as veteran Kim Dong-jin. A K-League winner with LG Anyang, a cup winner with FC Seoul, and a spell at Zenit that netted him a Russian title, a Russian Super Cup and most memorably a UEFA Cup and Super Cup double in 2008 when they pipped tax-cheats Rangers to the crown amid riots in Manchester. Add in 62 caps for Korea including a couple of international goals and appearances at the Olympics and the World Cup and you are dealing with a bona fide Korean football legend.

E-Land have brought him back to Korea after a spell in Thailand with Muangthong and while at 34 he might not be at his peak it should be interesting to see if his ability and experience add something to the side.

Shin Hyun-min (Ansan Mugunghwa)

Shin is the only remaining member of the K-League Challenge official team of 2015 so expectations will be high for him to keep his good form going in the coming season. The experienced centre-back was something of a rock at the back for Ansan last season and although the team had a bit of a disappointing season overall it was generally their mis-firing front line that let down what was an pretty impressive defence.

At 29 years of age Shin has plenty of experience at the top level with both Pohang and Jeonbuk and also had a spell in the Middle East. He's earned 9 caps for his country with the last coming in 2012. With that level of ability and experience he's capable of strolling through games at this level.

Jean-Claud Bozga (Daejeon Citizen)

It's always interesting when a K-League team brings in a European signing as they so often default to the easy option of unknown Brazilians. For that reason alone it will be interesting to see how Bozga gets on in the Challenge for Daejeon even though the player himself is one I know very little about.

A Romanian of Congolese descent Bozga is 31 and has had a respectable career at mostly unglamourous clubs in Romania, Belarus and Denmark. He should feel right at home in Daejeon then. At almost 6ft 5 he's a pretty strong physical specimen so it'll be interesting to see if he can dominate opposition strikers and bring a bit of aggression to the sometimes powderpuff Challenge.

Samuel (Busan)

Another 'interesting' foreign import for 2016 is Busan's Samuel. On the face of it Samuel might appear to be a very typical K-League Brazilian signing as the 29-year-old fits the familiar mould of a 'more clubs than Tiger Woods' journeyman pro but looking closer at his CV reveals the names of Werder Bremen, Anderlecht and Braga amongst a list of others from his homeland.

The impact of these names is slightly lessened by the realistion that his European career seems to consist of a total of 4 matches in Belgium but nevertheless if Werder Bremen saw enough in him to sign him then he must have something going for him.

Lee Won-jae (Gyeongnam)

Fellow contributor Matty Hannah picked Lee Won-jae out as his one to watch for Gyeongnam this season in his season preview so who am I to argue? Lee is a fairly seasoned K-League campaigner having bounced around the fringes of squads at Ulsan, Pohang and Jeonbuk before dropping down a level.

He's certainly an experienced Challenge defender having followed up a couple of seasons at Ansan with an impressive season at the heart of Daegu's defence in 2015. As such he's something of the perpetual bridesmaid, his teams having finished second in the table for three consecutive seasons but missing out on promotion each time. He'll no doubt be fired up to go one better in 2016.

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