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FA Cup Semifinal Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs Mokpo City

National League side Mokpo City FC continues its Cinderella run in the FA Cup with a visit to Ulsan Munsu Stadium this Wednesday to face off against their highest division opponent of the tournament yet, K League Classic side Ulsan Hyundai. While it may seem as though Mokpo will simply look to survive against an Ulsan side that still has a shot at the Classic title, City's last casualty in the Cup (Seongnam FC) should prove a stark reminder of what this third division side is capable of. Our Matt Binns and Ryan Walters take a closer look at the intriguing Semifinal.   
(image via @national_league)



How They Got Here

Hailing from Korea's third division National League, Mokpo City have enjoyed an extremely unlikely run to the final four of the FA Cup. Currently in 5th place and out of a playoff spot in league play, Mokpo has had the opposite run of form (and touch of luck) in the Cup and for the third round running is the only non-K League side in the competition. After having been knocked out of the tournament in their first game in 2016, it's fair to say very little was expected of the citizen club coming into this year. However, after dispatching fellow National Leaguers Changwon City FC 2-0 in the opening round, Mokpo had some very literal luck of the draw in the 4th Round when they pulled K3 side Yangpyeong FC from Korea's 4th division. While several of the other lower division winners had to face off against K League Classic and Challenge opponents in the 4th Round, Mokpo was in the unlikely position of playing someone below them in the pyramid. Following a narrow 1-0 win over Yangpyeong, Mokpo's luck got even better in the next round when they were drawn against the only other non-K League winners, Pocheon FC... from K3. Another narrow 1-0 victory finally saw City drawn against a K League side and it was assumed their Cinderella run would end when they faced the storied Seongnam FC at Tancheon in August. Those assumptions would prove to be shockingly false when the two sides finally hit the field. More on that below.

Ulsan Hyundai’s FA Cup campaign, on the other hand, has seen them face progressively difficult competition in each round up until now. Their first involvement with the competition was back in April when they hosted K3 Advanced side Chuncheon FC, coming away comfortable and expected winners to the tune of three goals to one, whilst also setting up a fifth round tie with then unbeaten K League Challenge side Gyeongnam FC in the process. Having gone a goal down in their tie, the second division title favourites would then threaten to cause a headache for Ulsan, pulling back an equaliser late on. With the match looking destined to go to extra time, a ninetieth minute effort from Ulsan's Park Yong-woo would secure a quarter final against fellow K League Classic side Sangju Sangmu.


With the league's military team in dire form, it seemed like a favourable fixture for Ulsan to book their place in the final, but it was perhaps not as straight forward as they may have first envisaged. Ulsan opened the scoring in the first half after a tame cross in from new signing Takuma Abe yet Sangju defender Lim Chae-min was unable to clear, allowing it to bounce under his foot and into the path of fellow new Ulsan arrival Danijel Subotic to finish with ease at the far post. Approximately seven minutes from half time though, Sangju would find an equaliser to throw the tie into doubt. Sangju striker Park Su-chang slotting home with ease after Ulsan had failed to pick up their left winger who sent his low cross unopposed. Ulsan maintained pressure though into the second half, and when Mislav Orsić beat the offside trap, he cooly squared it to Kim In-sung to finish and restore the home side's lead. Sangju's problems were compounded after defender Park Joon-gang saw a straight red for a horrendous high kick to the face of his opponent in the 64th minute, a tackle he looked to immediately regret. With a man advantage, Ulsan looked understandably dominant and it was Orsić who would deal the final blow, bamboozling the defender before slotting in at the far post from a tight angle.  Sangju's Kim Jin-hwan would then also head to the showers early for a second bookable offence moments later, leaving his side two men down and a two goal deficit to surmount, something that the relegation threatened military side had very little chance of doing.

The expectation heading into the midweek fixture between 3rd division Mokpo City and the resurgent Seongnam FC was that the minnows might put up a decent fight, but the Magpies would continue their 14 game unbeaten streak in all competitions and find their way back to the prominence of Korean football. And that was immediately thrown out the window when Mokpo was awarded a penalty in the first minute that striker Jung Hoonsung sent standout Seongnam goalkeeper Kim Dongjun the wrong way on to put the visitors up early. Again, logic suggested the stronger side – and the one with three FA Cups already in their trophy case – would eventually show their class and Seongnam would suppress the hopes of the lower division side. The Magpies pressed for the equalizer to break Mokpo's spirit, but some fine play by goalkeeper Park Wanseon, resolute defending, and poor shooting kept Mokpo in the lead. After absorbing pressure for the majority of the opening minutes, City was able to find their way down field on a counter and former Jeonnam Dragon Lee Inkyu flicked a lovely header to the far post to stun the crowd at Tancheon. The 1-0 lead that seemed sure to fail was doubled and suddenly Seongnam had a small mountain to climb. And somehow, Mokpo's astounding first half wasn't done yet. In the 42nd minute 22-year-old striker Kim Youngwook headed in a poor corner clearance and pushed the lead to 3-0. A second yellow for Seongnam midfielder Lee Changhoon in the 50th dropped the Magpies to 10 men and sealed their fate. In spite of being a man down, Seongnam still had some decent chances, but failed to make anything of them and ended the match unable to score in front of their stunned home crowd. After sliding by on narrow results against supposedly weaker opponents, Mokpo stamped their name on this year's FA Cup with authority with such a thorough showing against the only higher division opponent they were drawn against.

Who To Watch

Kim Youngwook's 10 league goals leads his team and is good enough for second in the National League Golden Boot race, just two behind current leader Bae Haemin of Changwon. Youngwook announced himself on the national stage vs Seongnam when he netted, but also was something of a pest for the Magpies backline throughout the match. At 187 cm he won't be towering over any of Ulsan's defenders, but he uses his body well and has a marvelous ability to sneak behind defenders in the six yard box. With the goal totals and physical skills already on his side at such a young age, a good number of Challenge team's scouts will likely be watching his performance against Ulsan to see if his shift vs Seongnam in the previous round was simply a one-off or if the kid has enough to score consistently at the next level.

First team Ulsan strikers Lee Jong-ho and the recently signed Danijel Subotic both look certain to feature in some capacity as they are both suspended for their club's league game this weekend due to an accumulation of yellow cards, meaning there is no reason why the manager should opt to rest them when a place in the final is on offer. Lee has not reached the goal scoring heights predicted of him so far, which has been further exemplified by the team’s decision to bring in additional strike power in the summer window to help add to the former Jeonbuk man’s seven league goals. With the threat of being displaced by new arrivals, the visit from Mokpo might prove welcome to a striker who may want to show his worth. As for Subotic, with it still being early days at his new club, he too may see this semi final as an opportunity to make his bid for a regular starting place when the league reaches it's post split run-in.


Mokpo City have fought admirably to come this far, but the gulf in class on this occasion may prove too difficult for the National League side to surmount. Ulsan have been in strong form for the majority of the K League Classic season yet probably also know the FA Cup is their most realistic shot at their first silverware since 2012 given their competition for the league title. With that in mind, and knowing the talent at their disposal, Ulsan should see off this Mokpo side with little issue.

Predicted Score: Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 Mokpo City

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