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The Race for Final A: Permutations and Considerations

For those experienced in all things K League, this probably doesn’t need saying, but for everyone else: K League is about to get more exciting, unpredictable and tense. After 33 rounds of action and drama, K League 1 will split into two smaller competitions; Final A and Final B.


The top six teams will form Final A after this weekend and will play round-robin games to crown this year’s K League Champions. These games will also decide who qualifies for next year’s continental competitions. The bottom half of the table becomes Final B, and will serve to determine which team will drop into K League 2. In addition to the bottom team being guaranteed relegation, the two teams in the tenth and eleventh positions will each face a relegation playoff against K League 2 sides.


FNR


Going into the final round of regular season games, most of the positions regarding this year’s Final Round of K League are settled. The top four teams at present, reigning champions Ulsan Hyundai, Pohang Steelers, Gwangju FC and Daegu FC, will all play in Final A. The present bottom five – from Daejeon Hana Citizen in 8th, down to Suwon Samsung Bluewings at the foot of the table – will play in Final B. Only three teams are in a position where their results this weekend will affect their position: FC Seoul, Incheon United and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

 


So who will secure a top-half finish?

 
For Seoul, there are only two results-based scenarios that would see them not make the top six – the combination of Incheon winning or drawing away at Ulsan, and Seoul losing at home to Jeonbuk. Should this be the outcome at the weekend, Seoul would then occupy seventh position, while Incheon and Jeonbuk move above them.
 
Incheon, currently in sixth, have one results-based scenario that would see them miss out on Final A. Should they lose at Ulsan and Jeonbuk win in the capital, the team in green would finish two points ahead of Incheon, a point above Seoul, and would move into fifth place. This would drop Seoul down to sixth, and Incheon down to seventh.
 
Jeonbuk face the toughest, but clearest, task of the three clubs in making the top half; they need a win against Seoul to confirm their place in the Top 6. A draw could be enough, but that’s where things get complicated: The K League’s first determiner is not goal difference, as in most leagues; it is goals scored. A draw for Jeonbuk coupled with a defeat for Incheon could see Jeonbuk move into the top half at Incheon’s expense – but it isn’t guaranteed. With this in mind, we need to look at the current table to see how the land lies.

Incheon are a point and a goal better off than Jeonbuk, however Jeonbuk have a better goal difference – the second determiner. If Jeonbuk draw and Incheon lose, both teams would have 47 points. In this situation, Jeonbuk would need to score a goal more than Incheon to finish in the top half. A 1-0 Incheon defeat, coupled with a Jeonbuk 1-0 victory would do it. But an Incheon defeat by a scoreline of 2-1 would require Jeonbuk to score two goals. And so on. The reality is Incheon could lose 10-1 this weekend, but if Jeonbuk only win by a goal, Incheon would finish in Final A.
 

[Listen: #KLUPod | ACL Matchday 2 Recap & 2023 K League 1 R33 Preview


In summary, Seoul and Incheon will be fine with a draw. Jeonbuk probably need to win. What will happen? That’s anyone’s guess. The table will likely not change a lot during the final 90 minutes of the regular season, but come 5pm on Sunday, the K League drama will only just be getting started.

 All the games will be broadcast on Coupang Play in Korea, and on K League TV outside. As it is the final day, all games kick-off together, at 3pm KST.

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