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Preview: Gyeongnam FC vs Suwon Bluewings

It's not only the temperature that is hotting up in Korea as the race for ACL qualification will reach fever pitch on Saturday evening when the Suwon Bluewings make the long journey south to meet Gyeongnam FC in Round 19 of the 2018 K League 1 season. Only one point separates Gyeongnam in 2nd place and Suwon in 3rd place and both teams will be keen not to relinquish ground in what is shaping up to be a four way fist-fight for the right to represent Korea in continental competition next year. 

Last Time Out

Suwon got back to winning ways on Wednesday night when they overcame a defensively poor Incheon United by five goals to two. Suwon took the lead when Park Hyung-jin floated in a delicious cross from the left-wing and some superb movement in the box allowed youngster, Yoo Ju-an, space to volley in for his first goal of the season. Suwon then went 2-0 up on the stroke of halftime, after Yeom Ki-hun had been felled just outside of the box. The left-footed, set-piece specialist opted to shoot around the Incheon wall, rather than over it, and a step to his left by Lee Jin-hyung, left the goalkeeper out of position and unable to scurry back to make the save.

In the second half, Suwon appeared to be in cruise control, but two substitutions seemed to turn the tide of the game when both Yoo Ju-an and Han Eui-kwon were replaced by Dejan and Waguininho. A thunderbolt from Incheon's Kim Dong-min (a real contender for goal of the season) got Incheon back into the game. And ten minutes later Incheon were back level, when Koo Ja-ryoung needlessly put hands on Elias Aguilar in the penalty area. Stefan Mugosa expertly converted the resulting penalty and claimed his 9th goal of a breakout season in the K League.

But Suwon's quality told out in the final stages of the game and they retook the lead in the 77th minute after some fine work from Waguininho and new signing, Saric. Waguininho picked up the ball on the halfway line and after drawing two Incheon defenders out of position, fed the ball to Saric on the left side of the penalty area. The Bosnian timed his run to perfection and had the awareness to pick out an unmarked Yeom Ki-hun, who smashed the ball into the roof of the net. A quick free-kick then allowed Dejan to capitalise on some lazy Incheon defending to put the home team 4-2 up. And the Montenegrin was on hand to round off an impressive final 20 minutes of the game when some fantastic close control in the box offered the opportunity to make it 5-2 and guarantee that Suwon won their first league home game since mid-May.

Full highlights here. 

Meanwhile, Gyeongnam kept up their impressive run of form beating Sangju Sangmu 1-0 away from home. Playing without much of their first choice eleven, Gyeongnam struggled to create chances in the first 45 minutes. However, the introduction of their big hitters (Kunimoto and Marcao) at half time changed their fortunes and a much improved 2nd half performance was rewarded in the 73rd minute. An impressive counter attack, starting from within their own penalty area, resulted in a headed ball falling to the feet of Kim Jun-beom and the central midfielder expertly half-volleyed from 25 yards out. Gyeongnam are still unbeaten since the World Cup break and now have three wins in their last four games.

Ful highlights here.

Previous Meetings

Strangely, despite Gyeongnam's excellent season thus far, Suwon ran out as comfortable winners when these teams last met, in April. Some slick, passing football allowed Suwon to take a 2-0 lead in at the interval, courtesy of Jeon Se-jin's 2nd senior goal and a strike of pure class, a full 30 yards away from goal, from Dejan Damjanovic. That 45 minutes remains the best football that Suwon have played all season and is testament to just what the team can produce when every player is on form.

Yet more adventurous football in the second half resulted in Suwon's third goal of the night when Lee Ki-je, providing his 2nd assist of the night, crossed into an empty Gyeongnam penalty area and Kim Jong-woo was on hand to tap in. Suwon cantered to a 3-1 victory and not even a 91st minute consolation goal could take the shine off what was an impressive Suwon performance.

These two have had a rather equal rivalry over the years of K League and out of their 29 meetings Gyeongnam have won 8 and Suwon have won 12, with the other 9 games ending in a draw. However, Suwon have enjoyed this fixture much more over recent meetings, having won four of the last eight fixtures. Infact, you need to go way back to an FA Cup game in August 2012 to find the last time that Gyeongnam were victorious over Suwon, and Gyeongnam even required a penalty shootout on that night.

Team News

Seo Jung-won has the injuries of Kim Eun-sun, Park Jong-woo and Lim Sang-hyub to contend with but other than that he has a full compliment of players to select from. And there was fuhrer good news on Thursday, when striker, Park Ki-dong, returned from a long injury lay-off to play his first minutes of 2018. The striker isn't renowned for his goals, but his presence on the bench or in place of Dejan, when he is rested, should come as a huge relief to the manager.

The likes of Han Eui-kwon and Jo Sung-jin, having played a ridiculous amount of minutes over the last week, are due a rest. But, if his experienced legs can take another game, Yeom Ki-hun is in line to start consecutive games. The midfielder, unconventionally, played from the right side of the attack against Incheon and was a thorn in the side for the entire game. His two goal haul on the night was his first multi-goal game since March 2015 and if he is to start more often then Seo should consider utilising him from the right on a more regular basis.

The Adversary

Following their promotion to the K League 1, Gyeongnam have had a truly outstanding 2018 campaign and although they weren't out rightly tipped for relegation they have exceeded all expectations of them.

A strong start to the season saw them win all four of their opening league games but some disappointing results throughout the month of April saw them drop down the table as quickly as they had climbed it. However, a resurgence in the form of their key players, has seen them lose only one game since the end of April and they are now four games unbeaten since the return of the K League after the World Cup.

On their day, they have a devastating attack, with most of the danger provided by their foreign imports, Marcao, Kunimoto and Nagueba, and 18 of their 26 total goals have come from one of those three. Brazilian, Marcao, leads the way with 12 goals and the towering striker is showing just how vital he is to this Gyeongnam team. He is deadly with either his left foot, or his right foot, and his height and physicality makes him the perfect target man in the K League. Gyeongnam fought off interest from Japan over the winter to keep their star player and they are reaping the rewards for their diligence.

Coupled with their lethal attack, they also boast the league's second best defence, having only conceded seventeen goals from their eighteen matches. Four consecutive clean sheets has seen them climb the table from 4th place to 2nd place and they show no signs of relinquishing the runners up spot to any team.

Prediction

Suwon are a team who can blow hot and cold, but their form away from home has been imperious for the best part of two years and they have won 8 of their 12 road games in 2018 already. But they are about to face a stern test in Gyeongnam. Outside of Jeonbuk, Gyeongnam are probably the most balanced team in the league, boasting quality and strength in every area of the pitch. If either team are to win this encounter then it will take something special to decide the game.

Gyeongnam FC 2-1 Suwon Bluewings

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