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Preview: Suwon Bluewings vs Seongnam

(Suwon players celebrate after their improbable victory over Seongnam in the FA Cup Quarter Finals. Photo courtesy of www.bluewings.co.kr)

Fresh from their grueling encounter on Wednesday night, which included extra time and penalties in sweltering heat, Suwon and Seongnam will again come head to head on Sunday night when they meet for a crunch encounter, this time in the league. It was 9 man Suwon that triumphed on Wednesday but could Seongnam bounce back and enact instant revenge on the boys in blue?

FA Cup Recap

In my pre-game preview for the FA Cup encounter I suggested that both teams would rotate their teams heavily, and as is usually the case, both managers set out to prove me wrong by naming strong starting line-ups, signalling their intentions towards this years FA Cup. Seo Jung-won took the gamble that I had wished for and started all 5 of Suwon's first choice attackers. Ko Cha-won came back into the team on the right of midfield, whilst new boy Johnathan continued as the lone front man. Seongnam's main man, Tiago, also made his first FA Cup start of the season although their other star foreign import, Pitu, was left on the bench, perhaps being rested for the league encounter. 

The game started brightly with Seongnam having the better of the opening exchanges. Tiago was predictably making a nuisance of himself down the Suwon right. On two occasions he left both Ko Cha-won and Jo Won-hee for dead causing absolute bedlam along the Suwon backline. An audacious 35 yard chip from the aforementioned Seongnam man flew inches over the crossbar and with that Seongnam's early pressure began to ebb away. 

And then the 1st half descended into a farce with the over zealous referee giving out cards (to both sets of players) like it was Christmas. An innocuous coming together in the box left Suwon midfielder Lee Jong-seung on the floor. The referee then bizarrely brandished a 2nd yellow card for the Suwon player, who I had presumed was being sent off for diving, only for him to then, after protestation from the Suwon players, show a straight red to Seongnam's Kim Tae-yoon. It was a strange bit of officiating which left both teams with 10 men. 

After the referee's shenanigans, Suwon began to press a little harder and after a Johnathan pot shot found it's way into the arms of Kim Dong-jun, another Suwon raid down the left profited in a goal. Yeom Ki-hun floated in a harmless cross and after two Seongnam defenders had failed to clear the ball, it found it's way to the an unmarked Ko Cha-won who hammered home from 8 yards. 

Tiago then unluckily pulled a muscle chasing down a stray ball and had to be stretchered off. And with that Suwon controlled the remainder of the 1st half. That was until Koo Ja-ryong had a complete moment of madness. With time running out in the 1st half, the Suwon centre back was beaten in a one-on-one on the wing and decided to rugby tackle the opposing player resulting in his 2nd yellow card of the night, and leaving Suwon to play the entire 2nd half, and subsequent period of extra time, with only 9 men. 

The 2nd half was as you would imagine. The 10 men of Seongnam camped in the Suwon half throughout with only Yeom Ki-hun mustering anything going forwards with a heroic display full of desire and grit. The rest of the Suwon players dug in and kept to their tasks well and kept Seongnam at bay until the 82nd minute when Pitu arrived into the penalty area unmarked and tucked away a well taken chance. It was no less than Seongnam deserved as they had played well against a spirited but physically drained Suwon team. 

Extra time came and it was more of the same. Seongnam pressed, pressed and pressed again, but each time they either met a sprawling Kwak Hee-ju, a composed Lee Jeung-soo or a fine shot stopper in Yang Hyung-mo.

By the time extra time had come the Suwon midfield had completely lost their legs, with Kwon Chang-hoon and Yeom Ki-hun left to limp their way through the remaining minutes. Kwak Hee-ju played through the pain barrier and ended up as a makeshift central midfielder once his legs had given way. 

Somehow Suwon managed to scrape through extra time and make it the lottery of the penalty shootout where Yang Hyung-mo stepped up and etched his name in to Suwon folklore. The goalkeeper only made his debut 2 months ago and has had some criticism for his inability to catch but he redeemed himself with a match winning performance saving 2 penalties and thus securing Suwon's place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. 

It was a fantastic backs-to-the-wall performance from Suwon and one that made you wonder where exactly that commitment has been for the last 2 months. And if Suwon can avoid being drawn against Ulsan in the Semi-Final then they may just fancy themselves to progress to the final, and be one step closer to that coveted ACL spot. 

Prediction

On paper, this is a bigger game for Seongnam than it is for Suwon. Suwon are languishing towards the bottom of the table, and while the club is in crisis mode there is still a general feeling around Big Bird that relegation is not a real possibility. However, Seongnam have real ambitions towards finishing in the top 3 and it is something that is possible if they can keep their star players fit and healthy. Seongnam have played some great counter attacking football this season and thoroughly deserve to be in the mix for those ACL spots. But 3 points dropped against this Suwon team would be a real disaster for Seongnam.

After their midweek exertions I would be highly surprised if either team are able to field a team that is even close to their starting 11. Mass rotation will be the flavour of the week and the game should be a good audition for a lot of Suwon and Seongnam's fringe players.

With regards to Suwon, I would expect that all of Jang Ho-ik, Kwak Hee-ju, Jo Won-hee, Yeom Ki-hun and Kwon Chang-hoon will be unable to make the starting lineup come Sunday evening. However, with Santos and Johnathan having been substituted early into the 2nd half in midweek it should be possible for them to start the match.

With Suwon's two key attacking midfield threats pushed to their limits on Wednesday night it would make sense for Seo Jung-won to take a more conservative approach to this game, especially as the squad does not have attacking midfielders in reserve. Go Seung-beom should be given another oportunity to impress in the centre of the park, whilst Park Hyun-bum should also recieve a recall and be allowed to anchor midfield. I would expect Johnathan to start the game as Suwon's only striker.

Suwon also signed experienced, former Holland international, Romeo Castelen in midweek, and while he may not be fully match fit it wold be nice to see him start the game on the bench with the possibility of a late cameo if Suwon require it. The right winger seems to be tailor made for this Suwon team and the potential of Yeom Ki-hun on the left and Castelen on the right excites me. With two traditional wing players on the pitch Suwon could be a dangerous opponent to face over the coming months. He pitched in with 5 assists for Western Sydney Warriors last season, but what was most impressive was his goal output of 7 goals which isn't too bad for a player that spends the majority of his time in wide positions.

It is very difficult to predict how this game will end because it is almost impossible to know what teams will be facing each other. However, I would make a tentative prediction that the game will be played at a very slow pace, with no intensity and probably, very little goal mouth action. If you are planning on watching this one on TV whilst enjoying your Sunday tea then I would advise you to think twice.

Score Prediction: Suwon 1 - 0 Seongnam

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