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FA Cup Writers' Chat: Busan vs Suwon

Gudeok Stadium will host the remaining semi-final of this year's edition of the Korean FA Cup on Wednesday night as Busan and Suwon go head to head for the opportunity to face Ulsan for the title. Can Busan reach their first final since 2010 or will the Classic team secure a victory and give themselves the opportunity to defend their title? Here, our Suwon columnist, Scott Whitelock, and Busan columnist, Tom Marcantonio, preview the game. 

Tom Asks, Scott Answers

Tom: After the draw at Seoul, it's only two wins in ten for Suwon. Would you put that mostly down to Johnathan's recent absence, or is this the perfect time to face the Bluewings? 

Scott: Suwon's form is certainly becoming a point of concern and with so few games remaining in the league things are a little too close for comfort at the top end of the Classic table.

However, the stats are a little deceiving on first glance as Suwon performed well and deserved victories in a number of those games. They dominated against the likes of Daegu and Pohang, and deserved much more from their game with champions-elect, Jeonbuk. And if it weren't for their lack of resolute defending in injury time (see the Pohang and Incheon games for reference) they would be 4 points better off than they currently are.

Johnathan's absence has certainly been a contributing factor to their lack of wins but there are also other factors at play. The lack of a real leader in the forward positions has been a real problem for Suwon over the last two months and the downturn in form of club legend Yeom Ki-hun has been a real problem. Losing one star player, in Johnathan, was a blow for the team but Ki-hun's lack of contribution has been a real dagger to the heart of Suwon.

I would suggest that it would never be a good time to play against Suwon because they are the ultimate yo-yo team and they lurch from good performance to bad performance with ease. But with their lack of cutting edge at the moment it may just be the ideal time for Busan to record a major shock.

TM: Suwon were more conservative than I expected against Seoul, with Lee Yong-rae, Kim Eun-sun, and Choi Sung-keun all in midfield, and Santos left on the bench until the closing minutes. Although Johnathan is always a threat on his own, they often seemed to lack bodies going forward. Can we expect a more attacking team against Busan?

SW: I must admit that I was also very shocked when I discovered that Lee Yong-rae had been selected and deployed in what could only be described as a 'deep lying number 10'. The midfielder certainly isn't know for his attacking attributes and although he got on the score sheet he didn't contribute a whole lot to Suwon's attacking play.

I can, however, understand Seo Jung-won's game plan and having witnessed FC Seoul successfully play that way in the last two Super Matches he clearly opted to go for a smash and grab victory. The fact that Suwon were able to manipulate a stoppage time equaliser spared his blushes but he will probably see that as a vindication of his tactics and that one goal could go some way to ensuring ACL football remains at Suwon next year.

With this being a one off cup game against lower league opposition you can almost guarantee that Suwon will revert back to type and play in the attacking manner that they are more comfortable with. Moreover, minus the injured Shin Hwa-yong, Suwon have a full contingent of players available and Seo Jung-won will undoubtedly select the strongest possible team to continue their quest to retain the cup.

TM: After last year's disappointing league showing, would fourth place and another cup win represent a successful season for Suwon? 

SW: Given that a number of people predicted that Suwon would win the league title this year, including myself, it is very disappointing that they weren't able to mount a significant challenge to Jeonbuk and Jeju. There are some mitigating circumstances but for a team of their stature and with the players available to the manager more should be expected of one of the biggest clubs in the country.

However, if Suwon were to win some silverware and qualify for the ACL then it wouldn't be a failure of a season. Their performances have been good and they appear to have learned from their mistakes of last season. The team is in good shape, but anything less than an actual challenge for the league in 2018 may see Seo Jung-won's days numbered even so soon after extending his contract for another 2 years.

TM: Last year, Suwon dumped Busan out of the cup on their way to silverware and the ACL. Will they do it again? What are your predictions?

SW: I have admittedly seen very little of Busan this year but from what I have seen of them they look like a completely different threat than the one they posed to Suwon last year. They have been playing some very nice football and in Lee Jung-hyub and Lim Sang-hyub they have two fine footballers who are probably playing at too low a level. And when you add Suwon's indifferent form to the equation the idea of a Busan upset becomes a distinct possibility.

But you can never overlook a Suwon team that has Johnathan in it and if the Brazilian is to feature in this game, and I suspect that he will, he should be the sole person on the pitch who decides which way this game goes. I genuinely believe that he is the best player currently playing in the Korean leagues and he is probably the only player who could single handedly decide the result of a game. Come Wednesday night, if Johnathan is at the races, I expect Suwon to secure their place in the final, but if he isn't then Busan may well just ruffle a few Suwon feathers.

TM: Score Prediction?

SW: Busan 1-2 Suwon

Scott Asks, Tom Answers

Scott: Busan ran out comfortable winners against Anyang at the weekend and with Busan's place in the Challenge play-offs already confirmed did the coaching staff take the opportunity to rest any players for this key game? 

Tom: With the important games coming up, Busan essentially treated the Anyang game as a friendly. They made eleven changes and gave a few fringe players run-outs and a chance to stake their claim for playing time. It worked out nicely as they won and kept the momentum going, and Busan's key players will be that bit fresher for the rest. My hope is that they'll have this edge over the Suwon players, who had a fast-paced game in the Super Match on Saturday.

SW: Busan have impressed a lot of people this year and only a relentless Gyeongnam team has bettered them in the league. With the lower ranked Classic teams struggling to find form is there real hope that Busan could seal their return back to the top tier of Korean football this year? 

TM: I think Busan know they have a real chance this time. Because of the play-off process, the Challenge is a tough league to get out off, and I don't think Busan will have a better chance than this year. They've managed to retain most of their best players since relegation, but you have to wonder how long they'll remain at the club if they don't get promoted. Like you say, there are a few Classic teams in the relegation mix, and Busan would fancy their chances against most of them. I'd go as far to say that there seems to be very little between the bottom five teams in the Classic and the top five in the Challenge, and it does beg the question of a reshuffle of the Korean league structure. In any case, in recent years it's been the team with momentum that makes it through the play-offs, and Busan will hope that trend continues.

SW: The whole of Korean football was extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Busan manager Cho Jin-ho 2 weeks ago. How have the players and the club as a whole responded to that tragic event? 

TM: It came as a shock to everyone, and you can see from the tributes all over Korea how popular Cho was both as a man and a coach. After Lee Jung-hyub's penalty against Suwon FC last weekend, the players ran over to a banner of Cho and paid tribute to him. It must be a difficult time for everyone involved at the club, but the reaction of the players has been exemplary. They've won both games since Cho's passing, and there's the sense that they want to finish up his excellent work and achieve that goal of promotion.

SW: Perennial underachiever Lee Jung-hyub has been in superb form for Busan this season and seems to finally be living up to his potential. How do you rate his performances this season and how important a player is he to this Busan team? 

TM: Lee's had a good year, and he's certainly someone Busan will want to hold on to going forward. Although he'll be disappointed not to have scored more goals, he's showed in his overall play why former national team coach Uli Stielike rated him so highly. In future I'd love to see him as part of an old-fashioned two-man front line, paired with someone small and quick. Lee links up with other players really well, but in Busan's usual system he's too often left as a solitary figure, and on his own he's not a consistent enough goalscorer. In recent years Busan have sold a lot of their best players: Kim Chang-soo, Lee Beom-young, Park Jong-woo, Yang Dong-hyun, and Ju Se-jong to name a few. It's really important now that the likes of Lee Jung-hyub are kept so that the club can get back to where it used to be.

SW: What is your prediction for this game? 

TM: I'm confident that Busan will hold their own for the most part. They've shown in previous rounds that they can match up to unsuspecting Classic teams, with convincing wins over Pohang and Jeonnam, and a tight game against Seoul (which they won on penalties). I just think that Johnathan is a class above, and I suspect that he'll be the difference.

SW: Score Prediction?

TM: Busan 0-2 Suwon

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