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K League 1 Finals A and B Round 38: Three Takeaways

The curtain has lowered on another K League 1 campaign and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors were crowned champions for the fifth year in a row.  Ulsan Hyundai finished as runners-up for the third year running, while there is still a K League spot open in the playoff round for next season's Asian Champions League.  Will Gangwon FC stay up or will Daejeon Hana Citizen be promoted back to the top flight for the first time since 2015?  Talking points aplenty with some of the script still to be written.
 

Jeonbuk Hyundai Are Champions Once Again

With their 2-0 victory over Jeju United, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors became K League 1 champion for the fifth year in a row and ninth overall.  It was also Kim Sang-sik's first as manager and it came in his first season with the club.  Hong Jeong-ho was named the league MVP.  In what has become almost too commonplace, the Green Warriors found a way to win key matches late in the season and in 2021, once again held off Ulsan Hyundai for top honors, even though the Horangi spent much of the season at the summit in the first division.  

Off-season considerations could come into play as there may be some consternation as to what will happen with the pair of Gustavo and Stanislav Iljutcenko, with the latter insisting on a few separate occasions this year that he should have been considered as the club's number one striker, while it was the Brazilian who garnered the bulk of playing time down the stretch.

Bridesmaids For a Third Season Running

Lee Dong-jun and Ulsan Hyundai fell just short of the club's first K League 1 title since 2005.
For Ulsan, it was disappointment once again, as they squandered their chance at a league title two weekends ago when they drew 0-0 with Suwon Bluewings.  With Dave Bulthuis already confirmed to be departing the club once his contract expires this month, the hope is that they will be able to secure the services of Kim Young-gwon of Gamba Osaka, a rumor which has been making considerable rounds of late.

Hong Myung-bo will have to put a particular focus on developing Oh Se-hun's striking capabilities in the off-season.  He showed signs of becoming a regular first team player late on in the season, and it would be a huge benefit for the club to groom homegrown talent rather than bringing in another foreign signing who might not pan out, as was the case with Lukas Hinterseer this year.  With Kim Ji-hyun moving to Gimcheon Sangmu to do his military service, the U-23 champion with Korea in Thailand last January will have a chance to shine and perhaps make a step up to the senior national team in the process.

Still Some Unfinished Business

Could the 2021 Golden Boot winner be showcasing his exploits in the Asian Champions League next season?
With the second leg of the FA Cup set to take place in Daegu on Saturday afternoon between Daegu FC and Jeonnam Dragons, there is still a playoff place on the line for next season's Asian Champions League.  Daegu have a one goal advantage from the first leg, and finished third in the league, so their participation in next year's tournament is already affirmed.

However, South Korea was allotted four spots for next year's competition - two in the group stage and two in the playoff stage.  If Jeonnam somehow manage to win the domestic cup, they will be in Asia's top competition but if the Sky Blues claim their second cup title, the second playoff spot would then fall to Jeju United, who finished fourth in the league.

Could the Tangerines be playing continental football just one season after promotion back to the top division?  It presents an interesting prospect, especially with Joo Min-kyu winning the Golden Boot for the 2021 season with 22 goals.

Promotion and relegation are yet to be decided as well, with the first leg taking place on Wednesday night between Gangwon FC and Daejeon Hana Citizen.  If the Purples can manage to make the jump back to K League 1, it would be their first time in the top flight in seven years looking ahead to next season.  A Kim Dae-won double gave Gangwon a 2-1 win over Seongnam FC in their final playoff match, so they do carry a bit of momentum with them into the first leg.  In what should make for an interesting fixture, it would come as no surprise if the sides switch places for the 2022 campaign. 

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