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Still One More Hurdle to Clear: Three Takeaways

For most clubs, the season is now officially over.  Pohang Steelers confirmed their third place finish in K League 1 with a 1-0 win against Gangwon FC at home on the final weekend.  There is still the matter of promotion/relegation playoffs to sort out, however, as Daejeon Hana Citizen will host the first leg of their tie against Gimcheon Sangmu on Wednesday night, while FC Anyang go head to head against Suwon Samsung Bluewings.  Could we still be in for a surprise?  KLU's Branko Belan has a closer look.


Steelers Return to Asia

Pohang Steelers won on the final weekend against Gangwon FC to wrap up third spot in K League 1, meaning they will enter the qualifying playoff stage for a chance to go back into the group stage of the competition, returning to continental football after a year away, following their appearance in the final two years ago, a match they lost 2-0 to Saudi Arabian giants Al-Hilal.  Kim Seung-dae scored the only goal in their final match of the season thanks to a helping hand from Ko Young-jun, who finished the season with six goals and four assists overall, appearing forty times for the club across all competitions and finishing as a finalist for the Young Player of the Year award.

What comes next for the Steelers as they head into the off-season?  According to reports, manager Kim Ki-dong wants to remain with the club, but there are certain conditions that need to be met in order for that to become a reality.  Pohang have not had a relevant first-tier foreign striker since the departure of Stanislav Iljutcenko, but recent news has said they have secured Zeca on a three year contract after he spent the 2022 season on loan at Daegu FC and put in solid performances.  Could he be the one to turn things around at the front of attack?

There is also the issue of keeping their first team defenders and veteran players.  Ha Chang-rae will likely stay with the club but the situation with Ryan Grant is not so straightforward as it is rumored he has received offers from clubs based in the Seoul area.  The one year option in Shin Jin-ho's contact has been put into effect, meaning he will stay one more season at the Steelyard but the team must come up with an acceptable salary figure to keep Kim Seung-dae as well.  Safe to say, busy times are ahead and the outcome of the overall situation will likely have a direct impact on the 2023 campaign.

Can the Purples Cause a Stir?

Daejeon have not played in the top flight since 2016.
Daejeon Hana Citizen finished second in K League 2 this season, after finishing third and fourth in the two previous campaigns.  They will open their two-legged promotion/ relegation tie against Gimcheon Sangmu at home on Wednesday night.  When the two sides met last season in the second division, Gimcheon won three of four meetings, suggesting that the military side may have an edge psychologically heading into the matchup.  There is, however, motivation to take that next step for Lee Min-sung's side, as they are looking to go back up to the first tier for the first time since the 2015 season.

If that is to happen, Leandro Ribeiro will be key to their hopes.  The Brazilian finished the year with nine goals and five assists, and, should he be able to find the net on Wednesday night, it could put them in good position for the return leg on the weekend.  Willyan, however, is an injury concern, as he missed the final match of the season with a muscle injury, but the Purples will hope he will at least be available as an option from the bench.  After finishing the season on a strong run, seeing them unbeaten in nine and with three consecutive wins to finish the season, will they be able to carry it over into the playoff?  The first leg could be a good indicator in front of their home fans.

FNR

A First in Playoff Football

FC Anyang will hope their third time in the playoffs will be a charm.
For the first time ever, there will be a second promotion/relegation playoff in K League.  FC Anyang have been in the playoffs on two occasions, but have been unsuccessful in their quest to move up to the first division.  They were ousted by Daejeon Hana Citizen at the first hurdle last year and face a Suwon Samsung Bluewings side who have never played in a playoff fixture before in their history.

As the first division side, Suwon have the edge and should be considered favorites to stay up.  FC Anyang has not done well of late in league play, with just two wins in their past eight matches.  Jonathan Moya led the team with nine goals this season, but has hit a considerable cold spell, as he hasn't scored since August 21st in a 3-2 win against Daejeon Hana Citizen, and has also seen his minutes cut, possibly as a result of a lack of production.  

Boadu Maxwell Acosty led K League 2 with eleven assists this year and also contributed seven goals, and should be considered the Violets' go-to player at the moment.  As a team, Anyang conceded only 41 goals in forty matches in 2022, and their 52 goals for put them in the top half of the division in terms of offensive production.  They start at home in the first leg.  Will it be third time lucky or will Suwon hold on to their first division status?

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