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Stretch Run on the Horizon: Three Takeaways

The race for the top six in the first division to end the regular season has essentially been decided with the final round of matches before the split this coming weekend, but there is still room for movement as teams will attempt to jockey for position in the closing stages of the campaign as continental football is still up for grabs.  Gwangju FC have all but secured automatic promotion for next season, but will by no means take their foot off the pedal as other teams in the hunt for the playoffs will try to benefit at their expense.  What does the near future hold?  KLU's Branko Belan looks at the possibilities as the season winds down.
 

Defending Champions Hitting Stride at the Right Time

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors recorded a minimal 1-0 victory over Seongnam FC in midweek, but while it may not have been the most convincing display, it still guaranteed them another three points, shaving Ulsan Hyundai's lead to five points, as the Horangi only managed a scoreless draw with Incheon United.  Modou Barrow, who scored the winner against the Magpies, has been in fine form of late, with four goals and one assist in his last four matches, bringing his season totals to nine goals and four assists overall.  

In what has become an all-too familiar scenario in recent years, Jeonbuk have recovered from a down spell of form earlier in the year to once again make a title race of it as the teams in the top half prepare for Final A, which will decide not only the title as usual, but also the spots for continental football for the 2023 season.  Jeonbuk face Suwon Samsung Bluewings in their final match of the regular season, having beaten them on three occasions already this season, twice in the league and once in the cup, so their spirits will be high, knowing they are not just on a good run of form at the moment, but will have confidence in the fact that they have dominated the head-to-head fixture, having won nine of the past ten meetings across all competitions dating back to 2019.

Who Will Claim the Fourth Spot For Asia?

Incheon have been the surprise outfit in K League 1 this season.
While there is still quite a bit of football left to be played, it is worthy to note the permutations in play when it comes to spots allotted for K League clubs for next year's Asian Champions League.  Currently, Ulsan still lead the top division with 63 points heading into the final weekend of the regular season, while Jeonbuk are five points adrift with 58 points.  Pohang Steelers are third on 54 points, knowing they will face the league leaders in one more edition of the East Coast Derby before everything is said and done, having gotten the better of their rivals when the sides met just under two weeks ago.

The top two face each other in the semi-finals of the FA Cup on October 5th, while Daegu FC and FC Seoul go head to head in the other semi-final.  If the eventual winner of the competition is one of the former two, that would open up fourth spot in the table, but if one of the Sky Blues or the club from the capital were to win, it would simplify things greatly.

The battle for fourth spot is currently being contested between Incheon United and Jeju United, with the Durumi currently holding a three point edge.  They are away to Gimcheon Sangmu to close out before the split, while the Tangerines have a noticeably more difficult test as they travel to face Gangwon FC, who defeated them 4-2 the last time the sides played this season.  Things may be clearer when the weekend is out, but all will be determined once the best prepare to do battle in the home stretch.

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Yellows Ready to Close the Deal

Gwangju FC are on the verge of a return to top flight football in 2023.
Gwangju FC have not yet mathematically clinched the K League 2 title, but would make a big step in doing that when they face Ansan Greeners on Monday September 26th.  They defeated FC Anyang in their last match, but the second placed Violets still have two games in hand, and should they win both of them, the gap between first and second would be ten points, meaning that Eom Ji-sung, Reis and Co. would still have a bit of work to do to clinch automatic promotion back to the top flight for next season.

They face a potential minefield, however, in their final three matches, as they face three clubs with something to play for.  Daejeon Hana Citizen, currently in third, would like to keep their position in the standings as it would guarantee them a home playoff match.  The remaining two sides, Gyeongnam FC and Chungnam Asan are still jockeying for the final playoff spot.  While all seems guaranteed at this point having lost just four times in 2022, nothing should be taken for granted with the remaining fixtures on their schedule.

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