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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Gyeongnam FC

K League 1 Round 38 Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Gyeongnam FC

It may be first versus second, but the K League 1 curtain closer between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Gyeongnam FC may very well take a back seat as the division bids farewell to it's most successful manager, Choi Kang-hee. With records already broken this year, can the home side muster up another victory to send off their long-serving leader in style, or will their visitors threaten to spoil the party?

Farewell, Choi Kang-hee

It would seem churlish to start this match preview without mentioning Jeonbuk's outbound manager. Choi Kang-hee's tenure at the club from 2005 has seen him haul in nine of Jeonbuk's eleven trophies, including both AFC Champions League titles and all six K League crowns. Prior to him, Jeonbuk's reputation within the country was that of an average side, yet he helmed their rise to the continental powerhouse that they are today.

The manager has certainly had his detractors, particularly in regards to his handling of some players and the incorrect assumption that his tactics have not evolved despite glaring evidence to the contrary. His brief and ill-fated stint in charge of the Korean National Team has not allowed some supporters to move on, with many basing their present-day perceptions and tactical approach on how badly he handled that position over five years ago. Some quarters rubbish the notion of any tactical nous by pointing at Jeonbuk's wage expenditure as the sole reason for his success, yet are as equally quick to believe that the club's fall is imminent without him in charge. Some choose to point to Jeonbuk's older players that he continues to stand by, yet are happy to welcome and overhype youngsters who make it to the national team without question, players which he has brought through and stood by on numerous occasions without a second thought.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Choi never reinvented the wheel at any point, yet, unlike many other managers in the K League, realised things needed to be tweaked when required. The football could be sublime when he allowed it to be, but he also would be quick to reign it in when the result was paramount. He wrongly mistreated some players, yet has those who would die for him on the pitch. The likes of Kwoun Sun-tae, Lee Jae-sung, Jang Yun-ho, Kim Min-jae and Song Beom-keun to name a few were all entrusted with roles of high responsibility early in their careers, despite having never played professionally when initially asked to do so. And for all those who bemoan Lee Dong-gook's prolonged tenure in the game, despite his ability to deliver, Choi always recognised the importance of the striker, knowing his value to the club both on and off the pitch, and arguing on an annual basis for the player to be kept on and being justified with over ten goals from the player for each of the last ten years.

Ultimately, he may not be a manager liked much by supporters outside of Jeollabuk-do, but he should be respected. While the league does need to find or develop managers with different takes on the game for the sake of the domestic game here in Korea, Choi deserves credit for lasting so long at the top despite the constant immense pressure to deliver season upon season. He will be missed by the Jeonbuk faithful though, as will be evident during his farewell match this Sunday.

Last Time Out

An evenly contested affair at The Steel Yard saw a fair outcome, with both sides sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw. The first half saw chances for both teams, with Jeonbuk goalkeeper Song Beom-keun initially having an uncharacteristically bad day in the opening exchanges. Pohang would even hit the woodwork early on in the second half before Jeonbuk would also do the same, with a long-range effort from defender Choi Chul-soon striking the crossbar. Jeonbuk would eventually take the lead through from the penalty spot. Pohang defender Kim Ji-min had every right to feel aggrieved when he fouled Son Jun-ho, with the clash looking as if it may have happened just on the edge of the box. The referee saw differently however, and pointed to the spot. Winger Ricardo Lopes would go on to convert with ease.

Kim Ji-min would go on to get his revenge however, converting a fantastic cross from midfielder Alemão picked out his run from afar just behind the Jeonbuk defence. The home side continued to press heavily thereon after, and may have felt aggreived not to find a second, but the point was a fair enough reflection of the match as a whole.

Highlights can be found here

Previous Meetings

Jeonbuk currently lead Gyeongnam in meetings this year having won twice and lost once. Jeonbuk racked up scores of 4-0 and 3-0 when playing away from home, yet fell to a late, undeserved, 1-0 defeat in Jeonju after pummelling their opponents goal for ninety minutes to no avail. In their 29 meetings, Jeonbuk have claimed 18 of the victories, drawing four times and losing on seven occassions.

Team News

Choi Kang-hee will be without two of his trusted defenders for his farewell festivities. Both Korean internationals Kim Min-jae and Kim Jin-su picked up their third yellow cards of the season against Pohang Steelers last time out, meaning they will be suspended on Sunday. The manager will likely opt for Choi Chul-soon to replace Kim jin-su once more in the left-back position, a role he excelled at during Kim's recent long-term injury. Replacing Kim Min-jae could prove trickier, especially with Hong Jeong-ho likely to still be injured. Cho Sung-hwan or Shin Hyung-min would be the likely candidates to replace him and feature alongside Choi Bo-kyung at centre-back.

Off the field, Jeonbuk have also revealed their new manager for next season, José Morais. The former Barnsley manager and assistant to Jose Mourinho will likely be keeping tabs on this weekend's match although there is no word whether or not he will be in attendance.

The Adversary

"With the final game upon us, Gyeongnam FC can look back on this season with great honor and pride at what this squad has achieved. To be a newly promoted side and to finish second place in the top division in Korea is a wonderful accolade." 

"It seems quite fitting that the top two sides should see out the season in Jeonju in which will be rightly billed as the Choi Kang-hee's farewell game. However, The Reds’ will be buoyed by a deserved victory last time out against a dogged Suwon Bluewings outfit, who defended well throughout the ninety minutes. Gyeongnam, slightly against the run of play if truth be told, opened the scoring through striker Kim Hyo-gi on 39 minutes.  Like a fox in the box, Kim reacted quickest to a rebound shot by Paulinho that was initially smothered by Bluewings keeper No Dong-geon. The away side were to draw level however with just seven minutes left on the clock, as the game was looking like petering out into a narrow victory for Gyeongnam. A hand ball in the box by an under pressure Woo Ju-sung resulted in a spot kick being awarded to Suwon, which Dejan stepped up and finished with aplomb into the bottom right hand corner, leaving the home sides goal keeper Lee Bum-soo motionless."

"But there was to be a late winner in this game, and what a clincher it proved to be. It came from the half time substitute Kunimoto with piece of individual brilliance. The Japanese attacking midfielder brought the ball down in the box beautifully from a hopeful swung in cross delivered from the right wing. The first touch was sublime and it left him with just the goalkeeper to beat. With the 'keeper bearing down on the midfielder he simply nudged the ball past the outstretched right arm, scampered around the panicked stricken No Dong-geon and, from a tight angle and on his favored left foot, struck the ball home as a Bluewings' defender crashed into the net in a valiant attempt to keep the ball out."

"It was to prove to be a very important winner as it meant Gyeongnam FC can finish no lower than 2nd in the league (as Ulsan lost to Jeju United elsewhere) and will now go into the Asian Champions League group stages next season automatically. The Reds’ will be placed in Group E. " 

"For the game this weekend they have one suspension in young midfielder Kim Joon-beom as he picked up his third yellow card of the season last time out. The away side will hope to call upon the services of their main striker, Marcão who hadn’t fully recovered from his injury last weekend.  He watched from the stands with his family in tow last time out. It could possibly be his last appearance in the colors of Gyeongnam as rumors of a move to the Chinese Super league have been circulating for a while now."

(By James Edrupt)

Who To Watch

With Marcão doubtful for the match due to his ongoing injury concerns, attention must be paid elsewhere within the Gyeongnam sqaud, namely Takahiro Kunimoto. The Japanese midfielder has had en excellent first season in Korea since his move from Avispa Fukuoka in the winter. At just only 21 year's old, he has found a regular starting berth at Gyeongnam and has played a key part in their push up the league and into second place. Last season, in the J.League 2, he played just 21 minutes from his side. The step up has been remarkable. With five goals and two assists as well, Kunimoto has helped contribute to the campaign even if only slightly, and serves as a perfect example why leading K League sides should make better use of their Asian quota spots (take note, Jeonbuk).


Given the occassion, there is every chance that the home side will be fired up for this match, determined to send their manager off in emphatic style. Gyeongnam have undoubtedly been fantastic this season, yet have struggled to contain Jeonbuk, even when they themselves clinched an unlikely victory. The away side may find some joy in the lack of Kim Min-jae in defence, but it still seems likely that Jeonbuk will have more than enough to ensure Choi Kang-hee has a joyous farewell.

Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-1 Gyeongnam FC

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