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Preview: Busan IPark vs Gwangju FC

K League 2 Preview: Busan IPark vs Gwangju FC
The K League 2's top two face off at the Gudeok Stadium this Sunday in a match that could have huge implications for the title race. Unbeaten leaders Gwangju FC make the trip east with their Brazilian goalscoring machine Felipe back in tow, aiming to open up a five point gap between them and the rest of the league. Standing in their way are Busan IPark, who have been prolific in front of goal in recent weeks and could leapfrog Gwangju with a home win. 

Last Time Out

Last Sunday Busan IPark secured their fifth victory in six games with a comprehensive drubbing of Daejeon Citizen. Hungarian striker Soma Novothny opened the scoring after 15 minutes, tapping in after Rômulo's deep corner was headed back across goal by Park Jong-woo. Novothny grabbed his second ten minutes later, cushioning Kim Chi-woo's dangerous cross into a half-empty net after the left back was released into space by Park's ball over the top. Daejeon failed to test Busan keeper Kim Hyung-geun on their rare forays forward, and the visitors essentially wrapped up the game on the half hour mark when Lee Jeong-hyeop slid in to convert Kim Moon-hwan's low ball across the six yard box.

Daejeon improved after the break but the Busan defence held firm and continued to look dangerous going forward. Captain Han Ji-ho showed dogged determination to shrug off the challenges of two defenders and tee up Lee Jeong-hyeop to rifle home his second of the game and Busan's fourth. Daejeon's Romanian midfielder Aurelian Chitu did well to engineer a chance for the home team, shimmying past defenders from out wide, but his shot from twelve yards went straight down Kim Hyung-geun's throat, and in stoppage time Lee Dong-joon added a final flourish to Busan's day, breaking away with Kwon Yong-hyun's pass to score the fifth.

Daejeon Citizen 0-5 Busan IPark highlights here.

Gwangju FC, meanwhile, continued their excellent start to the season with a 2-0 home win over Jeonnam Dragons. The home team took the lead on ten minutes from Lee Eu-ddeum's beautifully-placed free kick from 25 yards, Lee's first goal in more than five years. Jeonnam wasted two gilt-edged chances to equalise before the break, but both veteran full back Choi Hyu-jin and Brazilian striker Bruno Nunes blasted over when well placed. Then, five minutes before half time, Gwangju had Lee Han-do sent off after he lost the ball to Bruno and tripped the Brazilian as he raced through on goal.

Jeonnam dominated for much of the second half as they searched for an equaliser, and Gwangju keeper Yoon Pyeong-gook was forced into smart saves to deny fierce efforts from Bruno and Lee You-hyeon. Gwangju continued to look dangerous on the break, however, and substitute Jung Yeong-chong secured the three points from the spot after Kim Jeong-hwan was tripped just inside the penalty area.

Gwangju FC 2-0 Jeonnam Dragons highlights here.

Previous Meetings

Busan IPark and Gwangju FC have met fifteen times previously, and Gwangju have had the better of the encounters so far. Busan have only won three of the previous meetings compared to Gwangju's five, with the other seven games ending in draws.

The last encounter took place in Gwangju's World Cup Stadium in March, and it was a well-matched game befitting the league's top two teams. Busan took the lead four minutes after the restart when Lee Dong-joon was brought down in the area and Rômulo duly despatched the resulting penalty. Busan then missed two golden opportunities to double their lead through Kim Jin-gyu and Lee Dong-joon, and the visitor's wastefulness in front of goal was punished just after the hour mark. Busan defender Kim Myung-joon failed to deal with a dangerous ball across the six yard box and Felipe, who had been a nuisance for the Busan defence all afternoon, dispatched past Kim Hyung-geun to make sure honours finished even.

Team News


Captain Han Ji-ho is a doubt for Busan having limped off after providing an assist for Lee Jeong-hyeop in last weekend's win. More worryingly, the home side will also be without Aleksandar Šušnjar for the visit of the league leaders. The Australian centre back has impressed in recent weeks but is suspended for this weekend's game having received his third yellow card of the season against Daejeon. He could be replaced by 21 year-old Hwang Joon-ho, who has featured regularly as a substitute this year.

Coach Jo Deok-jae is likely to stick with the 4-4-2 formation that brought nine goals in the past two games. Lee Jeong-hyeop and Soma Novothny both scored braces last weekend and can expect to keep their places up front, while Kim Jin-gyu may have to settle for a place on the bench once more after Rômulo and Park Jong-woo impressed again in the centre of midfield.

The Adversary

Park Jin-seop's Gwangju have come through the much-discussed absence of Felipe in fine fettle having won both games in his absence. Returning from suspension, the Brazilian striker is expected to regain his place as the figurehead of the Yellows' attack. Youngster Kim Ju-gong grabbed a first start for the club after being preferred to Cho Joo-young in last week's 2-0 victory over Jeonnam Dragons, but is likely to make way in favour of the big man. In a rivalry of a different kind, having already created a cushion over the chasing pack at the top of K League 2, Gwangju should be full of confidence for their trip to Busan as they remain unbeaten since last season's play-off defeat to Daejeon Citizen.

Boasting the league's meanest defence by a margin of six goals, Gwangju will unfortunately see their back-line disrupted this weekend thanks to Lee Han-do's dismissal for a last-ditch tackle against Jeonnam. Alongside veteran midfielder Park Jeong-soo, centre-back Lee has been one of only two constants in the Yellow's starting eleven this season. Contributing to his side conceding just once in 455 minutes of league football, consistent performances and a flourishing partnership with winter signing Rustam Ashurmatov have been major factors. Forging a similar union with former Incheon United defender Kim Jin-hwan before the Uzbek's emergence into the starting line-up, it's likely that Kim and Ashurmatov will form an untested pairing at the Gudeok.

Gwangju have arguably their biggest two games of the season so far to come in a three-day period as they travel to Suwon Bluewings hoping to cause an FA Cup upset in midweek. It's doubtful that they will rest any players for such a key fixture in Busan, but manager Park's biggest selection headache once again comes on the wings with Lim Min-hyuk and Om Won-sang both pushing for a return. Interestingly, Lee Han-do's sending off led to both wingers being sacrificed last weekend amid a tactical reshuffle so they should be fresh and full of running. One of those taken off early, Lee Hee-gyun, has looked particularly lively when linking up with the returning Felipe this season.

- Written by Peter Hampshire

Who To Watch


For Busan IPark, Park Jong-woo will be vital to nullifying Gwangju's attacking threat. The veteran defensive midfielder is the only player apart from Rômulo to have started every one of Busan's games this season, and his tough tackling and composed passing have been key to Busan's good start to the season. The Olympic bronze medal winner ranks sixth in the league for number of tackles made, and third for number of forward passes. He has also made more long passes than any other player in the division and has three assists to his name after ten games. 


For Gwangju, the return of Brazilian forward Felipe is a timely one. Despite missing the previous two games through suspension, Felipe still tops the K League 2 scoring charts with nine goals from only eight appearances. The towering striker was a handful for Busan's defence the last time these teams met, and his sheer size and physicality has proved too much to handle for the majority of K2 centre backs. With Busan's most physical defender Šušnjar missing through suspension, Felipe will be chomping at the bit to get back on the pitch and back among the goals.

Prediction

Busan are have been in scintillating form in recent weeks, and were in not for the return of Felipe I would have backed the home team to put an end to Gwangju's unbeaten start to the season. The Brazilian's return, however, coupled with the team's stingy defensive record and impressive consistency, means that we are likely to see a similar game to the one these teams played out in March. Expect it to be tight.

Busan IPark 1-1 Gwangju FC

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