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Playoff 2nd Leg Preview: Sangju Sangmu vs. Busan IPark

The military boys are taking a one goal lead back to Sangju after Wednesday's first leg victory in Busan. After failing to break down the Sangju defence in their own back yard, Busan now have it all to do on the road. To get back into the K League Classic after a two-year absence, Busan will need a much-improved performance. Sangju, meanwhile, have a host of talented players on the fringes of the national team ready to scrap to keep their first division status.
(image via Busanipark.com)
The First Leg – How it Played Out

Columnists Ryan Walters, Matthew Binns and Paul Neat's post match analysis from the 1st leg on Wednesday.

A seventh-minute goal from Yeo Reum is all that separates the two sides after the game at the Gudeok Stadium. Although it was a fine strike by the Sangju captain, a half-volley from twenty five yards following a cleared corner, it was not without controversy. Claims for offside from some of the Busan players were unfounded, but the real question on the lips of several fans was why was Yeo Reum even playing?

In the final match of the K League Classic season, the captain was sent off for a wild and dangerous challenge in the first half, which would usually result in an immediate ban. Fortunately for Sangju, however, the promotion-relegation double-header (unlike the first two rounds of play-offs between the Challenge teams) is regarded by the people who matter as its own competition entirely. This means that appearances, goals, and of course, yellow and red cards and suspensions, are recorded in their own little bubble in this half-way netherworld between divisions. Whether this is sensible or not, it is something that Busan IPark still had eighty-three minutes to get over. They needed an equaliser, but it never came.

In the final third the home team were rushed and lacking in composure, too often shooting from range or miscuing when well placed. They did come close on several occasions, but Han Ji-ho, Lee Jung-hyub and Ko Kyung-min all missed good chances. Two second-half efforts from midfielder Romulo, one brilliantly saved by Yoo Sang-hoon and the other crashing against a post, were Busan's best attempts, but ultimately came in vein.

The Implications

The seasons of two teams finally come down to one final match. For home team Sangju, the implications of relegation are simple. As a team made up of conscripted players from all over Korea, the Sangju squad is extremely talented but lacking in long-term motivation. The latest national team squad announced by Korea coach Shin Tae-yong included Sangju centre-back Yun Young-sun, while wing-backs Hong Chul and Kim Tae-hwan were named on the standby list. Perhaps the biggest talking point, though, was Busan striker Lee Jung-hyub's inclusion over the more popular (and free-scoring) option of Sangju's Joo Min-kyu.

With the World Cup on the horizon, the Sangju players with dreams of Russia will be desperate to keep their places in Korea's top division. Beyond that goal, however, there will not be many long-term worries for the club. The fan base, due to the nature of the team, is small compared to most K League clubs, and the squad is generally refreshed each year with some quality recruits from some of the best teams in the league. Although relegation will be disappointing, Sangju should have enough quality to bounce back soon.

For Busan IPark the implications of not being promoted could be more serious. There are several players in the squad who will consider themselves Classic quality, and they may not be willing to wait around another year for Busan to achieve promotion. The Challenge is not an easy league to escape from, and although the club looks in great shape at the moment, they could struggle to put together another promotion push if their prized assets are tempted away, on top of the tragic loss of coach Cho Jin-ho last month.

The interesting twist to the end of Busan's season is that they still have a two-legged FA Cup final with Ulsan to contest next week. The winner of the trophy will qualify for the Asian Champions League alongside Classic top three Jeonbuk, Jeju and Suwon; a huge incentive. Although Ulsan will be favourites over two legs, Busan have giant-killed four Classic teams already on the way to the final and will feel quietly confident. For the club, the prize for winning could be more significant than just the trophy itself (it would be Busan's second FA Cup triumph in their history); if another season in the Challenge looms, the prospect of ACL football would do much to tempt the likes of Lee Jung-hyub and Lim Sang-hyub to stick around for another year. The next three games, needless to say, are huge for Busan.

Who To Watch

Sangju Sangmu goalkeeper Yoo Sang-hoon was a busy man in the first leg, and he can expect more of the same on Sunday. The FC Seoul loanee made some fine saves, notably from Han Ji-ho and Romulo, as Busan pushed for an equaliser, and Busan will likely start the second-leg the way they finished the first: peppering Yoo's goal with shots. If he can replicate his midweek heroics, Sangju will be looking at another year in the Classic.

Busan IPark's Brazilian midfielder Romulo has become a more prominent member of the squad in recent weeks. It's been a promising debut season in Korea for the 22 year-old loanee from Bahia. His set-piece delivery throughout the season has been exemplary and has contributed heavily to his year's tally of seven assists. Since caretaker manager Lee Seung-yub has taken the reigns, Romulo has also been given more freedom to roam forward, making bursts into the box to add to his own goalscoring threat. Romulo will expect to play some part in Sunday's game, and his contribution from midfield could be vital.


Busan need to score, so they will likely start faster than they did in the first leg. If they are more patient than they were in the second half at the Gudeok, they have a chance. Sangju, though, have the advantage, and Busan will hope history does not repeat itself. In 2015, the first leg of Busan's play-off encounter with Suwon FC ended in a 1-0 defeat, and they went on to lose the second leg 2-0. After witnessing that heartbreak at the Gudeok two years ago, this writer is hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.

Sangju Sangmu 2-0 Busan IPark

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