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FA Cup Semifinal Preview: Last chance saloon for Jeonbuk and FC Seoul

It's all or nothing for much of the final four in the 2022 Korean FA Cup. Holders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are five points behind Ulsan Hyundai in the K League table and are out of the AFC Champions League and so the FA Cup might well be Kim Sang-sik's last hope of silverware and to stay in the Jeonju Castle dugout beyond this season. For FC Seoul, it's Final B for another year and another relegation scare. They take on fellow strugglers Daegu FC in Wednesday's semifinals looking to salvage their season with a first FA Cup final appearance since 2016. Paul Neat and Matthew Binns look ahead to the 2022 Korean FA Cup semifinals.

#DAEvSEO: Daegu FC vs FC Seoul - 19:00

For FC Seoul fans and their waning trust in An Ik-soo, the FA Cup is a last chance for the manager to show that his project is worth believing in. FC Seoul travel to DGB Daegu Bank Park this Wednesday for what will be a third straight meeting with Daegu FC and will do so looking to avoid a third straight loss to them. Seoul began Final Round where they finished the regular season, with a defeat to Daegu FC, conceding three goals in the process. Third time lucky for Coach An and his players would seal a first cup final appearance since 2016. But if Seoul are to overcome a resurgent Daegu FC, they're going to have to rethink their approach. 

This insistence on playing out from the back and try to pass teams to death hasn't yielded results. Time and time again, Seoul have been caught napping in the middle of the park and teams have picked them off on the counter. This is how Daegu scored their first two goals in the Round 33 meeting and in the 3-2 loss at Sangam in Round 34, the ball is given away high up the pitch for both the first and third goals and Daegu punish Seoul with pace and incision. 

While tactics and approach will be worth keeping an eye on, so will An Ik-soo's team selection. Ki Sung-yueng was allegedly told to retire by one angry fan after Saturday's loss and was seen visibly upset when responding. There's a dark cloud hanging over Seoul World Cup Stadium and so playing away from home might be for the best. An has fielded Cho Ji-hoon as the midfield anchor in the FA Cup, the former Suwon Bluewings man has made six appearances this term and three have come in the cup.

Daegu, meanwhile, have hit form at the right time - helped by Cesinha's four goals in three games and Zeca who has three assists and one goal in the same span of games. The Sky Blues are targeting survival as their priority but they'll be favourites to win on Wednesday night. Sealing safety and a place in a second consecutive cup final will be seen as a decent season considering the upheaval Andre Gama's sudden resignation brought.

- Paul Neat

#ULSvJEO: Ulsan Hyundai Vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors - 19:00

You'd be forgiven for looking at Jeonbuk's position in the table, their run in the AFC Champions League, and thinking that all was well at Jeonju World Cup Stadium. However, the brand of football on show and consistent failure to capitalise on Ulsan Hyundai's misgivings has led to protests within the stands over the manager's tenure and the rare scenes of the Champions' bus being blockaded after a match.

Things have picked up since then, however, with four consecutive wins seeing them just five points off the Horangi with four remaining, including a game against them this Saturday. The goalscoring exploits of Modou Barrow (six goals in his last four), Han Kyo-won and the boost provided by the return of Cho Gue-seung from the military does look well-timed to make this an interesting finish to the season. With last year's MVP Hong Jeong-ho also returning from injury at the weekend, Jeonbuk are at full strength for a set the run-in.

Despite this, Kim Sang-sik's side needs to realistically win all four remaining league matches and hope for a favour elsewhere to claim what would be their tenth league title and sixth in a row. A tall order given that the closest any team has come to winning all five of their post-split matches was Jeonbuk in 2014 (four wins and a draw).

The FA Cup semifinal this Wednesday then provides an ample opportunity to ensure the team doesn't finish the season empty-handed but it comes with the caveat of not only overcoming Ulsan Hyundai, but potentially showing their hand prior to Saturday's clash.

The same is true for Ulsan Hyundai though who will be concerned about letting Jeonbuk back into a title race when they are so close to a first league trophy in sixteen years. Having held a double-digit lead over the Green Warriors just three rounds ago, the fans have a right to be concerned given they have seen their team let the title slip out of their grip to Jeonbuk for the last three years. 

Therefore, while Hong Myung-bo will have some intention of winning this fixture, some rotation is expected as the league is prioritised. Jun Amano will likely feature for the hosts as he misses out this weekend through suspension, but Ulsan are likely to call on more from their depth to be at full fitness for Saturday. 

It does provide Jeonbuk with a potential opportunity to make the final by playing a full-strength squad. Still, manager Kim Sang-sik will be aware that if it then contributes to losing on Saturday, it would all but dash his side's title hopes with games spare, an embarrassment Jeonbuk have not faced in a decade. To miss out on the cup though, and still not win the league, would lead to the Green Warrior's first trophyless season since 2013 and could perhaps all but seal the manager's fate in the off-season, especially given the fans' current discontent.

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