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Playoff Preview: Busan IPark vs. Sangju Sangmu


Having seen off Asan Mugunghwa on Saturday, Busan IPark now face off against Korea's other military team Sangju Sangmu for the first leg of the promotion-relegation play-off. The winner over two legs (the second of which takes place in Sangju on Sunday) will take the last remaining spot in next season's K League Classic. Without a win in eight games, Sangju Sangmu face a fight to hold onto their Classic status.
(image via Busanipark.com)
Last Time Out

After impressing against Seongnam in the first round of the play-offs, Asan Mugunghwa came to Busan on Saturday in a confident mood. Busan, however, had other ideas, and dominated proceedings at the Gudeok Stadium. Winger Han Ji-ho, a threat all afternoon, created the home team's first chance on his own, cutting inside from the left and curling an effort just past the post. He was involved again when Busan opened the scoring, receiving Lee Jung-hyub's pass and firing into the legs of the goalkeeper, only for the ball to bounce back out to the international striker for a simple finish just after the half-hour mark. The home team should have doubled their lead soon after, but Brazilian midfielder Romulo could only head straight at the goalkeeper from ten yards after being picked out by an excellent Jung Seok-hwa cross.

Asan came out stronger in the second half with the introduction of promising youngsters Han Eui-gwon and Kim Hyun, but despite dominating possession they struggled to create clear-cut chances. 23 year-old Busan goalkeeper Kim Hyung-geun, preferred over the more experienced Koo Sang-min and Kim Kyung-min between the sticks, justified his selection with a fine double save to deny Kim Hyun and Park Sun-yong after the break. From then on Asan continued to press, but Busan always looked the more likely team to score. Han Ji-ho shot wide when one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and then struck a free-kick against the crossbar soon after. The second goal eventually came with ten minutes to go, Romulo picking out Lee Dong-jun with a sumptuous pass over the defence, and the substitute, who had only been on the field for two minutes, slid the ball home to give Busan breathing space. Lee Dong-jun then broke away again on the counter, only to be hauled down by Lee Eu-ddeum when clean through, giving the referee no choice but to send the Asan man off. A third goal followed in stoppage time, the speedy substitute breaking clear of the defence yet again to loft the ball over the advancing goalkeeper.

While Busan were enjoying themselves at the Gudeok, Sangju Sangmu were missing out on their chance to avoid the relegation scramble. A point at fellow strugglers Incheon United would have seen them safe in the Classic for another year, but a first-half red card for Sangju captain Yeo Reum for a reckless high tackle made life easier for Incheon. Second-half goals from Moon Seon-min and Kim Do-hyuk saw Incheon and Jeonnam Dragons escape to safety at Sangju's expense. The defeat was Sangju's fourth in the last six games, and puts them in danger of ending their two-year stay in the top division.

Team News

Busan are likely to still be without Brazilians Leo Mineiro and Danny Morais, as well as regular captain Lim Sang-hyub. Midfielders Romulo and Han Ji-ho should keep their places after impressing against Asan, but it will be interesting to see who stand-in coach Lee Seung-yub selects in goal. Busan have rotated their three goalkeepers all season, but youngster Kim Hyung-geun seems to have emerged as first choice for the new coach, despite a poor error in the FA Cup game against Suwon Bluewings for a Johnathan goal that was eventually disallowed.

Sangju, meanwhile, will be without skipper Yeo Reum after his red card on the final day of the season, and Shin Jin-ho is likely to return to the starting line-up.

Who To Watch

There will be a few eyes on speedy youngster Lee Dong-jun after his substitute heroics against Asan, while Lee Jung-hyub will once again be the focal point of Busan's attack. The key against Sangju, though, may be experienced centre-back Lim You-hwan. Although injuries have restricted his appearances in recent seasons, the 33 year-old once captained Jeonbuk Hyundai to a K League Classic title, and he has been a rock in his limited appearances for Busan. Having been without impressive Brazilian Danny Morais at the heart of the defence in recent weeks, Lim has stepped in and has hardly put a foot wrong. With spells in China and Japan under his belt, the big and burly centre-back will need all of his experience to keep Sangju's talented attack at bay.

Sangju Sangmu, despite struggling near the foot of the table for much of the year, boast a fine squad of players. They have a wealth of experience throughout the side, including centre-back Yun Young-sun, international left-back Hong Chul, midfielders Kim Tae-hwan, Shin Jin-ho and Kim Ho-nam, and attacker Kim Byung-oh. The star of Sangju's season, however, has undoubtedly been Joo Min-kyu. The 27 year-old has seventeen goals and six assists to his name this year, prompting some to call for his inclusion in the national team set-up. Following on from two similarly goal-laden seasons at Seoul E-Land, Joo will be desperate to be playing in the Classic next year. With the World Cup on the horizon, there's still a chance for the attacking midfielder to force his way into the squad. That task will be a whole lot more difficult if Sangju are relegated.

Prediction

Despite a solid start to the season and a talented squad, Sangju have struggled desperately for results in recent months. Busan, meanwhile, have only lost once in their previous eighteen games (to Challenge runaway winners Gyeongnam). Promotion-relegation play-off history tells us that the in-form team from the Challenge has the advantage over the Classic strugglers, but there's too much quality in this Sangju squad to write them off. Busan have the home advantage in the first leg but this will be a far sterner test than Saturday's 3-0 win over Asan. I expect a tight game ahead of the return leg at Sangju on Sunday.

Busan IPark 1-1 Sangju Sangmu

Where Can I Watch?

MyCujoo has global rights to stream both legs of the play-off in HD. No matter where in the world you are, keep tabs of all of the action here.

As for pre-match and post-match analysis, we will be going live from the 'K League United Bunker' over on our Facebook around 6:30pm KST. Make sure to tune in for that ahead of the game also!


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