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Playoff Writers' Chat: Busan IPark vs Daejeon Citizen

Playoff Writers' Chat: Busan IPark vs Daejeon Citizen K League 2
After eagerly awaiting the winners of Wednesday's K League 2 Promotion Semifinal, Busan IPark will finally get their playoff campaign under way when the south coast side welcome Daejeon Citizen to the Gudeok this Saturday. Busan, of course, made it all the way to the final last year and so will be determined to go on better this time around. Daejeon Citizen, meanwhile, will make the trip south knowing that, despite being the underdogs, they are unbeaten against Busan on the road in 2018. Ahead of Saturday's K League 2 Promotion Final clash, columnists Tom Marcantonio and Paul Neat sat down to talk each team's chances. 

Tom Marcantonio Asks, Paul Neat Answers

Tom Marcantonio: Daejeon managed to get past Gwangju without international midfielder Hwang Inbeom on Wednesday night. How did the midfield perform without him and, considering he spent most of the year with Asan Mugunghwa, how important is he to this Daejeon team?

Paul Neat: He’s important, as would any full international player be to their team, the effect he had on the team when he came back was sizeable but Daejeon are not a one-man team. On Wednesday night, due to injuries to both Hwang Inbeom and captain Ahn Sanghyeon, Daejeon’s midfield was very young. Park Sooil was moved back into the centre of midfield after spending the last few months at full back whilst Yun Kyungbo was tasked with playing as the defensive midfielder.

In truth, Yun dropped into the back line to make a five when Daejeon were out of possession and the result was, as per Ko Jongsoo’s game plan, was to try and hit Gwangju on the break by hitting long balls over the top. The Purples bypassed the midfield in the first period and it wasn’t until the second when they began to play a bit more. Shin Hakyoung performed well, coming on as a half-time substitute. After his introduction, Citizen seemed to be able to hold onto the ball a bit better and showed more composure.

Of course, Daejeon will be hoping that both Hwang Inbeom and Ahn Sanghyeon will be fit for Saturday but it must be reassuring to know that, even with a few forced changes, Ko Jongsoo has a squad of players who can all get the job done when called upon.

TM: This will be an interesting reverse from Wednesday's game with Gwangju; this time Daejeon are the team with more incentive to attack. Does this suit their style of play? 

PN: Absolutely, Daejeon are an attacking team. They are direct and they get stronger as the game goes on. On Wednesday night, when Gwangju were the team who had to come out strong, Daejeon seemed to suffer a little bit and were unable to maintain composure. Gwangju were the better team in the first half and, if the score is level or even narrow heading into the latter stages of the second half, Daejeon will feel as though they can go on and get a couple of goals and win the game. The away win at the Gudeok is prime example of that; Daejeon were hit with a 75th minute Ko Kyungmin equaliser for Busan but still had the desire and confidence to go on and find a winner. Ko Jongsoo likes to attack and that’s exactly what I’d expect of Daejeon come Saturday.

TM: This is Daejeon's best season since their K2 title win in 2014. What's been the biggest factor in the club's change of fortunes since their poor 2017 campaign and, should promotion be achieved again this year, would the club be any more prepared for the K1 than last time?

PN: I think it’s down to recruitment. A lot was made of Daejeon’s rather sizeable squad and perhaps rightly so given that close to 60 players were allocated squad numbers. But, over the winter Daejeon signed a lot of up and coming, young, hungry players. The spine of the time is made up of U23s that have been entrusted with regular places in the team; centre back Ko Myeongseok, midfielder-turned-fullback Park Sooil, midfielder Kang Yunsung, forward Park Inhyeok, to name but a few. They seem to play with a point to prove and work for each other. There's a real team spirit there at Purple Arena, everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Also, Ko Jongsoo seems to be taking to management rather well. He doesn’t get too carried away when Daejeon win, nor does he get too downhearted when they lose. I think this level-headed nature and approach has helped the young players express themselves. Ko is also proving to be somewhat of a tactician. He admitted that the long ball approach was part of his game plan after the Gwangju win. But, at half time, adjustments were made and the team went on to get the goal. If/when Daejeon do make it back to the top tier then they are in good hands but they would need a bit more experience to help guide these younger players. Should Hwang Inbeom go to Europe then the reported $1.9m fee should help with that.

TM: Prediction?

PN: Busan away will be tough, no doubt about it. However, having drawn 3-3 and won 2-1 in the Purples’ last two trips down south, they will go there with the belief that they can get a result. After Wednesday’s performance, I can foresee Daejeon getting a draw and possibly even a narrow win if Hwang Inbeom and Ahn Sanghyeon are fit.

Busan IPark 1-1 Daejeon Citizen

Ko Jongsoo: "We can get a result against Busan".

Paul Neat Asks, Tom Marcantonio Answers

Paul Neat: Busan’s last game was of course on the final day of the season on 11th November, a lot of time has passed since then, four weeks in fact. Of course, some rest after a long season will have been welcomed but do you think that there could be an element of rustiness after not playing a competitive match for almost a month?

Tom Marcantonio: That’s definitely a concern. You could argue that Busan will be the fresher team, having had a long time to prepare for the game, but it’s been a long time since Choi Yoongyeom has put his best team out, and it’s just going to come down to how well the players have trained and how prepared they are physically for this game.

The point in Busan’s favour is that they actually faced a very similar situation last year. There was a three week break between their final game of the season and their play-off match against Asan Mugunghwa. On that occasion the additional preparation time and fresh legs turned out to be an advantage, and Busan ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.

PN: Daejeon didn’t need to win to advance yet they still approached the game like any other went for the win. Busan will of course be in a similar situation, do you think the manager will stick to his guns tactically and go for the win or could you foresee a more cautious approach?

TM: Although Busan were second top scorers in the K2 this year, they don’t usually come flying out of the blocks. They tend to feel their way into games and are usually a lot more attacking in the second half. This approach suits them nicely for Daejeon’s visit. They won’t necessarily sit back and let Daejeon have a go, but it would be naive to go out all guns blazing early on.

For the final few weeks of the season Choi Yoongyeom settled on a 3-5-2 formation, something he’d only utilised occasionally before. This offers the team a little more defensive solidity than a back four, especially as the full-backs (Kim Moonhwan and Kim Chiwoo, especially) enjoy getting forward. I expect to see this formation again against Daejeon, and it should suit the game plan, especially as you would expect Daejeon to throw the kitchen sink at Busan from the off.

The other thing to remember is that Busan have a lot of speed when they do go forward. Although Daejeon need to score, they also need to be careful not to let Busan get a goal on the break. With the likes of Kim Moonhwan, Kim Jingyu and Han Jiho, Busan will be looking to profit if Daejeon play a high line or commit too many players forward. Another player who could prove important is Lee Dongjoon. Although he’s likely to only appear off the bench, he has such blistering pace that he’s perfect for the kind of game in which Busan are soaking up pressure and looking to counter.

PN: Busan, of course, went close to finishing second and, had not have been for a two back-to-back draws, could have pipped Seongnam for automatic promotion? Do you expect there to be any sort of hangover from that? 

TM: I don’t think so. Although there was a point towards the end of the season where Busan had automatic promotion in their own hands, it would hardly have been the most convincing promotion (not least because of the Asan disbanding debacle). Busan played some good football this year and their results were solid but not spectacular. Much like last year, it seemed apparent even from the early weeks of the season that they would finish the year somewhere in the playoff zone, and I don’t think the players will be lingering too long on the missed opportunity. The playoffs always looked like Busan’s most likely route to promotion, and I think they’ll be prepared for it.

This is, of course, the third year in a row that Busan have made the play-offs since their relegation from K1 in 2015, so they’ve been in this situation before. Last year in the final against Sangju Sangmu, it only took one missed penalty in the shootout from Ko Kyungmin to end a whole season’s good work. The play-offs are as much about mental strength as anything and it will be interesting to see how Busan respond, not only to missing out on automatic promotion, but also to their heartbreaking end to last year.

PN: Prediction?

TM: This will be an intriguing game. The matches between these teams were well balanced this year, but with Daejeon needing to win, it will be fascinating to see how adventurous they dare to be in the opening stages. We could see something similar to the 3-3 classic these teams played out in July, when Daejeon went racing into a 2-0 lead only to be pegged back. That was one of the best games of the season, and I wouldn’t mind a spectacle or a result like that again.

Busan IPark 2-2 Daejeon Citizen

2018 K League Promotion/Relegation Playoffs: How it all Works

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