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FA Cup Semifinal Preview

On Wednesday night two K League 1 teams will be looking to avoid falling victim to further FA Cup giant killings when Sangju Sangmu take on National League side Daejeon Korail, and Suwon Bluewings head to Hwaseong FC for Wednesday's FA Cup semifinal first leg. Korail, from the third tier, and Hwaseong from the fourth, have five K League 'cupsets' between them to make it to this stage. 

Daejeon Korail (NL) vs Sangju Sangmu (K1) 19:00

To get to the semifinals of the FA Cup, Daejeon Korail have displaced three K League teams, after an extra time win over Jeonju University in Round 3. After which, 2-0 wins followed over current K League 1 title challengers Ulsan Hyundai in Round 4, K League 2 side Seoul E-Land in Round 5, and then ACL hopefuls Gangwon in Round 6. The Iron horses head into Wednesday's cup clash on a run of five matches unbeaten and four straight wins and find themselves third in the National League and in an unexpected hunt for the playoffs. One thing that is to be expected of this Korail side, however, is that the third tier side surrender to K League 1 outfit Sangju Sangmu.

In a 4-2-3-1 with star man Kim Jung-joo playing anywhere along that three behind the main striker, as well as leading scorer with seven Lee Kwan-pyo, Korail know they have quality in the right areas of the pitch to cause problems for a depleted Sangju side. Furthermore, the Korail have shown that they have been able to deal with different types of opposition; against Ulsan it was a counterattacking approach with two low blocks and men behind the ball leaving Kim Jung-joo and Ji Kyung-deuk as the two outlets. There was a noticeable difference in the following cup tie against Seoul E-Land with the Iron Horses on the front foot more. In Round 6, Daejeon Korail were able to get men behind the ball, as per the 2-0 win over Ulsan, but limited the space for Gangwon to pass, rather than creating two low blocks, leaving it very difficult for Gangwon to engage in any "Byung-soo Ball". Key for Korail is Lee Kwan-pyo, leading scorer with seven and has two in FA Cup, including a beautiful free-kick against Ulsan. Another very important player is their number seven, Kim Jung-joo who has the most assists in National League with seven as well as the most shots in the division and with a 59% accuracy rate. At the back there's K League experience in Jang Won-seok and Kim Tae-eun who have both played for cross town neighbours Daejeon Citizen in K League 2.

Sangju Sangmu find themselves in the semi-finals after labouring through two penalty shootouts to both Seongnam and Jeju United, before seeing off Changwon City 2-1 in the quarter-final stage. The military side are in somewhat of a predicament heading into Wednesday's clash, however, having bid farewell to twelve key players that have featured as part of the core that have got them both to this stage and also into top half contention in the K League 1. The most notable absentees will include striker Sim Dong-woon, left-back Kim Min-woo and creative midfielder Yoon Bit-garam who have returned to parent clubs Pohang Steelers, Suwon Bluewing and Jeju United respectively.

While manager Kim Tae-wan will rue the loss of such talent, he has capable understudies sitting in the wings. Kang Sang-soo, who had put in some strong displays throughout August, will likely step in for Kim Min-woo whereas the team's reliance on Sim Dong-woon was already starting to be phased out. Kim Gun-hee, who scored against Jeonbuk on Sunday, could potentially be his replacement. Former Bayern Leverkusen attacking midfielder Ryu Seung-woo also seems likely to be the natural successor to the influential Yoon Bit-garam and will be expected to shine here. However, Sangju's biggest threat is striker Park Yong-ji. Park did not feature in the weekend loss to Jeonbuk but could well be called upon here. Park is the second highest Korean scorer in the division with ten goals to his name for the season. Like Park Gi-dong and Joo Min-kyu before him, Park Yong-ji has shone under the tutelage of manager Kim Tae-wan since joining Sangju and will be hoping he can finish his final few months with the side by helping them to FA Cup glory.

Hwaseong FC (K3A) vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings (K1) 19:00

Hwaseong FC started their unlikely journey to the semifinal way back in March when they resoundingly defeated Mokpo Christian Hospital 6-1 before defeating K League 2 side Ansan Greeners 3-2 a couple of weeks later. They would then go on to defeat fellow K3 Advanced outfit Yangpyeong 5-2 before edging past the National League's Cheonan City on penalties in the following round. The quarterfinals saw them face their biggest test, however, defeating last year's K League 1 runners up Gyeongnam FC 2-1 away from home. Their league form has also been superb, with the side winning their last eight matches in a row and going eleven unbeaten, placing them at the top of the division heading into the final straight.

Having not been in action last weekend, the team could prove to be fresh for this sizeable encounter. Manager Kim Hak-chul has been adamant in his chosen formation, rarely swaying from his preferred 3-4-3 shape regardless of the competition or opponents. Jeon Bo-hun and Moon Jun-ho lead the scoring with six and seven goals respectively, but it is perhaps Yoo Byung-soo who will have the biggest say for Hwaseong on Wednesday. The 31-year-old is a former Incheon United product with time spent in Saudia Arabia with Al Hilal, where he won the Saudi League, and Russia with Rostov, where he helped claim the Russian FA Cup. His winning pedigree and experience should prove to be massive assets to Hwaseong over these two legs.

Suwon Samsung Bluewings are the joint-most successful side in this competition and will be pushing for a record fifth trophy to add to their club's history of achievements. Furthermore, with chances of an AFC Champions League place through league qualification looking an increasingly distant possibility, this competition represents their best opportunity to return to Asia's premier club competition. Suwon come into this semifinal having played all their fixtures at home, defeating K League 1 side Pohang Steelers 1-0, K League 2 leaders Gwangju FC 3-0 and the National League's Gyeongju HNP on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

However, they also enter this match off the back of some inconsistent league form. Over their last eight matches, they have won three, drawn one and lost four, with no outcome being consecutive. This may well be down to manager's Lee Lim-saeng continued need to rotate players rather than keep to a core group. Only five players in Suwon's squad have made it beyond the 1,800-minute mark this season. Fortunately, Suwon boast the K League 1's deadliest striker in Adam Taggart. The Australian international is currently on 16 goals for the campaign despite an expected goals figure of 9.31. While he could arguably be expected to slow down eventually, there is no doubt that he is in stellar form at present and should pose the biggest threat to his team's K3 opponents on Wednesday evening.


Our site editors Ryan Walters, Paul Neat and Matthew Binns sat down to record an FA Cup preview episode of The K League United Podcast live for our listeners. You can watch the studio recording below or listen to the audio version here.

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