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playoffs

Preview: K League Challenge Round 29

What seems like a solidified playoff field has the potential to be shaken up this weekend with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th placed teams all in pivotal match ups. For the outside-looking-in Asan Mugunghwa a visit from cellar dwelling Daejeon may be exactly what they need to save their season. Meanwhile, 3rd and 4th will square off head to head in a battle to potentially secure home field advantage should they meet again in the playoffs. All of this and more in your guide to K League Challenge Round 29.
(Image via facebook.com/BUCHEONFC)

Saturday 9th September

Ansan Greeners (9th) vs Busan I'Park (2nd) 19:00

With eight weeks left in the K League Challenge calendar it's still technically possible for Busan to catch and overtake Gyeongnam for automatic promotion, but it's not much more than that. The visitors will merely be looking to keep their seven game unbeaten run going and further solidify themselves as the top team heading into the playoffs. Conversely the Greeners are playing for pride at this point in the season and potentially jobs in 2018. Look for youngsters like 24-year-old goalkeeper Hwang Injae to get another shot at solidifying a spot in the starting 11, and – as always – keep an eye on the Uruguayan Raúl Tarragona as he continues his push for the Challenge Golden Boot. He'll need to be at the top of his game if Ansan's to pick up their first home win since early May against a Busan side that has only lost three times on the road in 2017. Not sure he'll be enough.

Prediction: Ansan Greeners 0-1 Busan I'Park

Seoul E-Land (8th) vs FC Anyang (7th) 19:00

After a shocking four game win streak that saw them beat three of the top five teams (including league leaders Gyeongnam), Seoul E-Land returned to Earth last weekend with a 3-1 loss at Suwon FC. The good news coming out of the match for the Leopards was Alex finding his way back into the starting lineup and finding the back of the net yet again. The Brazilian has been a revelation for a suddenly energized E-Land side who don't have enough time to right the wrongs of their early season failures, but can certainly position themselves well for 2018 if they continue to pick up wins and confidence. To do so they'll need to beat Alex's former team (for all 112 minutes he was on the pitch), FC Anyang. Much like E-Land, it's too late in the season for Anyang to do anything significant this year. At the moment they simply need to stop the rot of a six game winless stretch and stop leaking so many goals. Only the newly formed Ansan Greeners and 10th place Daejeon Citizen have conceded more than Anyang this year, and it's been the Achilles heel of an otherwise decent squad. Anyang has history on their side with just three losses to E-Land in the 11 matches the teams have played, so perhaps that will be enough to carry them... but not likely.

Prediction: Seoul E-Land 2-1 FC Anyang

Gyeongnam FC (1st) vs Suwon FC (6th) 19:00

A match up that may have carried title implications before Suwon's seven game winless slog through July and August sees the league leaders hosting the now 6th place side clinging to mathematical hopes for a playoff spot. Gyeongnam enter Saturday night having won seven of their last eight and showing no real signs of slowing down even though the title is all but officially theirs. In six of those seven wins GFC scored three or more goals and has further vaulted themselves up the scoring charts with an astounding 56 through 28 rounds. The next closest is Busan with 44. As ever Gyeongnam's Brazilian ace Marcão is the man to watch up top as he looks to extend his personal goal scoring record beyond the Golden Boot leading 17 he already has. For Suwon FC they'll look to replicate the game plan they had back in July when they handed Gyeongnam their first loss of the season. If the visitors are able to net early again and put the pressure on Gyeongnam, then they may have a chance of coming away with at least a point. However, 24 of Gyeongnam's 56 goals have come in the 75th-90th minute this season, so no lead would truly be safe.

Prediction: Gyeongnam FC 3-1 Suwon FC

Sunday 10th September 

Bucheon 1995 (3rd) vs Seongnam FC (4th) 18:00

Easily the marquee match up of the Challenge weekend, both Bucheon and Seongnam enter the match on a winning streak and tied with 43 points each. For the hosts, three wins in a row over Suwon, Ansan, and Asan was enough to separate them from the pack and solidify a playoff spot. The charge up the table was largely on the back of their striker Waguininho who scored five of his team best 12 goals in the month of August. The 27-year-old Brazilian will look to stay hot on Sunday and push Bucheon past the team directly below them in the table. Should 1995 manage to take all three points it may be enough to ensure home field advantage for the single elimination playoff game that's likely to be this exact same match up. A match Seongnam FC likely won't care where it's played given they've only lost once since early May. An 18 game stretch that has seen them go 10-7-1 and reinvigorate a fanbase that had nearly given up on them after a horrendous slide out of Classic that carried into this season. Standout goalkeper Kim Dongjun has continued to shine this season and was previously helped by cult hero defender Marin Oršulić, who is still out recovering from injury. However, the defense has stood tall and still boasts the league's best goals against with just 23 conceded. They'll be tested yet again this weekend when they face off against Challenge's second leading scorer, Waguininho, in what should be an entertaining battle to watch unfold. Unfortunately for the hosts, they've lost six of their last nine at home and may not have the defense fortitude to keep Seongnam off the board.

Prediction: Bucheon 1995 1-2 Seongnam FC

Asan Mugunghwa (5th) vs Daejeon Citizen (10th) 19:00

If Asan's going to claw their way back into the playoffs, this is an absolute must win for them and there's no reason they shouldn't walk away with all three. After far too long at the helm, manager Lee Youngik is finally out at Daejeon, but his replacement, Kim Hyungjun, hasn't been able to immediately right the ship. The Citizens enter Sunday evening having lost four in a row and have yet to break 20 points on the season. Veteran striker Cristian Dănălache has been doing his best to drag the Purples to relevancy with 9 goals to his name this year, but the team has been bereft of any semblance of proper management for so long there seems no recovery in sight. Which is why Asan should have had this date circled on their calendar for weeks. Riding their own three game losing streak that's seen them drop out of the playoff picture, a visit from the last placed Citizens may be exactly what the police squad needs to save their season. Sitting five points beneath Seongnam for the third and final playoff spot, Asan knows the combination of playing Daejeon at home and SFC playing Bucheon away is as good as it's going to get for them for the rest of 2017. Should they fail to get a win Sunday, then it's all but officially over. Especially when considering the nine players they'll be losing after this weekend when they return to their parent clubs (pictured below). However, should Asan manage to get the win they should and Bucheon does them a favor, then they would be just two points behind Seongnam with seven games to make up the difference. This one likely won't be pretty, but look for the hosts to do enough to get the job done.

Prediction: Asan Mugunghwa 1-0 Daejeon Citizen

(instagram.com/amfc2017)

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