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FA Cup Final Writers' Chat: Busan I'Park vs Ulsan Hyundai (1st Leg)

FA Cup Final 1st Leg: Busan I'Park vs Ulsan Hyundai

With only a few days having passed since their crushing penalty defeat in the promotion play off final, K League Challenge runners up Busan I'Park will look to put disappointment behind them and rally themselves for a two legged FA Cup final against K League Classic side Ulsan Hyundai, who themselves require this silverware to ensure they qualify for Asia's premier club competition next season. Columnists Tomas Marcantonio and Matthew Binns sat down to talk about what to expect when these two sides meet in the first leg on Wednesday night.

Tomas asks, Matthew answers

Tomas Marcantonio: Ulsan looked to be a decent outside shot to challenge Jeonbuk to the title this year before the league split. What went wrong in those final five league games, and how far are this team from reaching the level of 2012 when they won the Asian Champions League?

Matthew Binns: You could probably take their poor form further than the split and consider it starting after barely defeating National league Mokpo City 1-0 in the semi-finals of this competition. Whether having secured a spot in the final let them ease up in the league or if they just failed to hold their nerve is uncertain, but their dogged determination seemed to fleet them in that final stretch of league matches. There was no change in formation, and no major losses to the strongest line up. Perhaps it is this unwillingness to change their game plan that allowed top half teams in desperate need of qualifying for the ACL to exploit them. Ulsan may have also anticipated this match would have been against a fellow top four competitor and cup semi-finalists in Suwon Bluewings, meaning they could start digging out their passports as both would have already qualified. It is telling that Ulsan had no problem in finding a victory once they had dropped out of the top three places.

In terms of how far they have moved from their 2012 iteration, well I would be surprised if they are claiming continental silverware any time soon. Despite reaching this final, this season has been, at best, standing still, finishing once again in fourth with a low goal tally and negative goal difference. While fingers can be pointed to fighting on multiple fronts, it overlooks the fact their AFC commitments finished disappointingly in May and they have had plenty of investment in rebuilding this squad during the off-season and summer, with the likes of Lee Jong-ho and Oršić coming in to bolster the ranks. Their FA Cup run has only seen them defeat one Classic side on the way to the final (a struggling Sangju Sangmu), and, if their showing against Mokpo was anything to go by, they have hardly been convincing. The KFA placing manager Kim Do-hoon on the three-man shortlist for the official manager of the year will only act as justification for his methods when really the Ulsan board should be trying to figure out what has he actually changed in his first year as it certainly does not look like an awful lot. Difficult questions about his managerial ability should be asked in the winter, but they likely will be avoided if he manages to claim this trophy.

TM: Lee Jong-ho has been the poster boy for Ulsan since his move from Jeonbuk last year. Has he fulfilled expectations this season?

MB: Lee Jong-ho's move from Jeonbuk seemed like a sensible one given that he only started regularly scoring for Jeonbuk once given a run in the team, before then being pushed back down the pecking order by the arrival of Edu. Ulsan were a team in need of goals and if the man known as 'Gwangyang Rooney' could go someway to fulfilling the promise he showed at Jeonnam Dragons, Ulsan could have a real player on their hands.

Instead, it has not gone quite as well as he would have liked. He certainly has become the poster boy, but his image is one representing a strike force with the fourth lowest scoring tally, with him not even the top scorer in the side, bagging just ten goals across all competitions. That is not to say his commitment is overlooked. His constant willingness to chase and wrestle control of the ball are often what endears him to supporters. I feel his position in the team has been undermined in the summer by the signing of another striker, Danijel Subotic, which will not have helped his confidence, even if it was the right idea to bring someone else in given Lee's goalscoring inconsistency.

TM: After missing out on a place in the top three, how important is it for Ulsan to win the FA Cup? 

MB: I would imagine it means a lot for the players who joined this year with the promise of continental football, and for the board who invested so heavily in procuring their services. It goes without saying it would mean a lot to the fans who have stuck by them, and a just reward for having to endure watching their title challenge fizzle out.

Whilst no team has a right to win any title, there are clubs whose history means that there should always be that minimum expectation and Ulsan fall into that bracket. That said, as alluded to above, a year without Champions League football may allow them to justify changing coaches and concentrate on domestic commitments, although it would be interesting to see what players would stick around, and what players they could attract, if this scenario transpired. Despite their negative tactics, they did keep up with the leaders for most of the year, so a clear run at first is not beyond the realms of possibility if it was their sole focus. This negative 'silver lining' thinking should not be going through anyone's mind at this point however.

TM: Busan have already knocked out four Classic teams on their way to the final. How big do you think the gap is between these two teams, and how do you see this game playing out?

MB: Prior to the play-off finals, I thought Busan would be capable of causing an upset. Seeing how they struggled to break down a Sangju Sangmu side who have had a very obliging defence of recent, the hangover that may be lingering from that clash, and that Ulsan will also be fighting for their first taste of silverware in five years plus ACL qualification, I doubt whether the Challenge side can contain them over two legs. That said, for this first leg, if a rallied Busan side can break through and hold on, they might be able to edge out something to give them hope. After all, Ulsan have conceded in each of their last seven matches. I will sit on the fence and opt for the score draw.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Busan I'Park 1-1 Ulsan Hyundai

Matthew asks, Tomas answers

Matthew Binns: Busan were the first Challenge team not to win the promotion/relegation play-off on Sunday, cruelly losing on penalties to Sangju Sangmu to condemn to another year of Challenge football. How do you think this will affect them mentally ahead of this final?

Tomas Marcantonio: The players are going to be crushed. I think if you gave them the choice between the FA Cup and promotion, they would have taken promotion every time. Although a trophy win would represent an excellent season for the club, Busan IPark are too big a club to be in the Challenge. They want to be playing the likes of Jeonbuk and FC Seoul every week, playing against the best players in the country.

Now that the chance has passed them by for another year, the players have to pick themselves up quickly. Winning the cup would not only be a trophy for the cabinet, but it would also give them a crack at the Champions League. It's a huge motivation, and they just need to put the Sangju games behind them now and focus on the job at hand.

MB: Busan are enduring quite a stressful period, playing three crucial play-off matches within the space of a eight days before moving onto this final three days later. Do you think alterations to squad will be needed to combat tiredness?

TM: Yes I think there will need to be changes, especially as the second leg at Sangju went into extra time. Busan have a lot of depth in defence, and it seems that coach Lee Seung-yub doesn't have a preferred back four or goalkeeper, so I don't think changes at the back will be a problem. Likewise, there are a few options on the wings, especially with Brazilian Leo returning from injury. Up front, though, and in central midfield, I don't know if the manager can risk changing things up.

Lee Jung-hyup doesn't really have any competition for that starting role. Choi Seung-in, who scored eleven goals for Gangwon in 2015, has been his main deputy, but apart from a few cup goals he's had another disappointing year. Even though Lee Jung-hyup played every minute of the last two games, I'd still expect him to start. The same can probably be said of Lee Jae-kwon and Romulo in midfield. Both have performed well in recent games and there aren't a great deal of options in that position, so the coach will likely stick with them despite the short recovery time.

MB: Striker Lee Jong-hyup has once again been called up to the Korean national squad for the EAFF E-1 Asian Championships despite what could be deemed an underwhelming goal scoring record in Korea’s second division. What do you think it is that Shin Tae-young seems him and will we see it in this final?

TM: Lee Jung-hyup has never been a prolific goalscorer, and I don't think he ever will be. His tally of eleven goals this year is a career-best, but he does bring more to the table than just goals. He's a tireless runner and his hold-up play is generally very good. His link-up play is also solid. That being said, I would have Pohang's Yang Dong-hyun in the national team over Lee every time. Yang has many of the same attributes as Lee, but he also has that predatory instinct that Lee often lacks.

I think it's really telling that Lee chose not to take a penalty in the shootout against Sangju. I don't have a problem with strikers who don't take penalties, but at the same time it's a big indicator of confidence when a team's talisman and top scorer says he doesn't fancy it. These two games against Ulsan will be huge for Lee, not least because he has a point to prove after struggling on loan there last year. Busan will be down after missing out on promotion, and there will be a lot of pressure on their big players to perform. Lee is their international striker; he has international goals to his name and he needs to prove that he's the man for the big occasion. If he's not on his game, Busan are going to struggle.

MB: How do you see this one playing out?

TM: I don't think Ulsan will have an easy game. Busan have already shown this year that they can match up to some of the Classic's bigger teams, and I think it will be tight. Ulsan have the fresh legs advantage, however, and I really think Busan might struggle to pick themselves up after such a devastating result in the playoff final.

Tomas' Predicted Score: Busan I'Park 1-2 Ulsan Hyundai

This is not the first time these two southern provincial neighbours have met in a domestic final. Ulsan Hyundai fan and guest columnist Mike O'Neill takes a walk down memory lane back to 2011 when these two sides faced one another in the final of the last League Cup. You can read his piece here.

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