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Preview: Sangju Sangmu vs Jeonnam Dragons

For the first time since 2009, the Dragons will finish their season in the top half of the table and have a steep test ahead of them in Championship Round. With their best finish in seven years guaranteed and the championship well out of reach, it may seem there isn't much to play for, but international glory may await the Dragons. As has been the case for several weeks, Jeonnam control their own destiny, but instead of looking up at the top six, they now have one eye solidly on 2017 with games out of the country on their mind.

Sangju SangmuJeonnam Dragons

Competition:K-League Classic

Date:Oct 16, 2016
Game Week:Round 34
Venue:Sangju Stadium 

Becoming Champions

No... not actual league champs, but the Dragons have a chance to force their way in to the AFC Champions League for 2017, and this weekend is a huge test to get that ball rolling. K-League is currently allotted spots in the ACL for the top 3 in the league table and the FA Cup winner. Jeonnam's currently sitting on 43 points, which is 6 behind 3rd placed Jeju United. The islanders are set to face Jeonbuk in Jeonju this weekend, so there's more than a fair chance they come away with zero points. Should the Dragons pick up the win at Sangju this weekend, they would be just 3 points behind Jeju for 3rd place with another head-to-head matchup yet to come this season.

But that's not all. Should one of the top three teams also be the FA Cup winner, as FC Seoul and Ulsan both have a chance to do, then K-League's 4th placed team earns a spot in ACL. So even falling short of 3rd place, there's a good chance of playing international football in 2017 for the Dragons if they can climb just one spot in the standings and hold it. If they're to have a shot at doing that, then they'll need to pick up a win this weekend to close the gap with 4th place Ulsan (who's 5 points ahead of them) to make that head-to-head much more meaningful. It's a bit of an outside shot, but it's completely possible if Jeonnam recover their summer form for the stretch run.

History In The Making

As the slightly adorable gif will tell you, this is the first time Sangju and Jeonnam have ever met in the Championship Round. Though the teams are no strangers to each other, neither has traditionally enjoyed the success they have this year, so the long standing history will add a welcomed new chapter this weekend. In the three matches this season, Sangju came out on top twice and shocked the Dragons into what was easily their lowest point of the year: conceding three goals in the last 10 minutes of a home match to fall all the way to 11th place. However, Jeonnam rebounded this summer and delivered the most recent blow in the rivalry with a dramatic late win in Round 31. A win that saw Jeonnam jump from 8th all the way to 5th within two weeks and helped secure their spot in the Championship Round. As the 5th and 6th place teams both sides know there will be little beyond pride to play for should they come away empty handed this weekend, so look for this traditionally tepid rivalry to get kicked up a notch on Sunday.

We Need to Talk About Gi-dong

In the three matches the former Sangju standout has started for Jeonnam the Dragons offense has scored exactly zero goals. There was a goal in that stretch, but it came from defender Choi Hyo-jin in the 82nd minute of the aforementioned victory the last time Sangju and Jeonnam met. Shut outs against Suwon FC and Jeju United not only saw Jeonnam stumble into Championship Round, but cast doubts on a formerly potent offense's ability to find the back of the net. An adjustment period was always to be expected, but the 27-year-old Gi-dong looks utterly lost and bereft of ideas in the attacking third. His lack of inspiration combined with a poor first touch has led to far more turnovers than the Dragons became accustomed to and a lack of opportunity for the rest of the team to get involved. More importantly, his presence has created a truly worrying opportunity for the team to return to the offensive tactic of lobbing the ball forward to a target striker and hoping for that lone man to make magic. From the moment Gi-dong stepped on the pitch, this is what the Dragons have done, and sadly we've been down this road before. It's the same strategy Noh stubbornly stuck by early in the season when Stevo proved unable to perform. The same strategy that saw all 178cm of Mislav Oršić ripped from the wing and played out of position up top where he was manhandled by centerbacks and completely removed from the game. Unsurprisingly, neither of those were good stretches for the Dragons, and equally predictably the return to a target striker hasn't gone well. Jeonnam's 8-3-2 stretch this summer came from keeping the ball on the ground and utilizing the speed and dribbling skills of Jair and Ahn Yong-woo. After three woefully inept weeks of Gi-dong up top, it's time for them to return to that strategy and leave him on the bench for the first 60 minutes.

The Adversary

In Miroslav Tramita's most recent Power Rankings he rightfully put Sangju in 11th and correctly said "the fact they made top 6 is also thanks to Seongnam and Gwangju's struggles rather than Sangju's recent performances." Winless in their last seven matches, the army team undeniably comes in on the downturn. A streak that's far from unpredictable considering they lost their two leading goal scorers (Park Gi-dong and Park Jun-tae, who are now on the Dragons roster), and another 14 players. Any team that faced that kind of mass exodus at such a crucial point of the season would likely fall off a cliff. Add in the fact that Sangju have only held three home clean sheets this season, and you have a perfect recipe for the Dragons to break their duck and get back to scoring some goals.


This one may not be the best match to show to a friend you're trying to get into K-League, but ultimately those of us wearing yellow on Sunday should have a smile on our face by the end of the 90 minutes.

Sangju Sangmu 0-1 Jeonnam Dragons

What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter: 

1 comment

  1. indeed Dragons need to take this , opponent is just right


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