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Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Claim Seventh K League Title

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors claim seventh K League title

In what proved to be both an enthralling and chaotic set of final K League 1 fixtures, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors came out on top to lift a third successive league title and their seventh overall. While the name on the trophy may once again be familiar, circumstances meant it was far from a certainty in what has been one of the most exciting K League seasons in recent memory.

While future supporters of the K League may look back and see Jeonbuk's title win on Sunday as merely a case of history repeating itself, those who endured this weekend's hotly-anticipated final round will know it was anything but certain.

Jeonbuk came into Round 38 knowing that only a win would do, but they would also need to rely on help from Pohang Steelers if they were to claim silverware. With Pohang travelling to face league leaders Ulsan Hyundai in an East Coast Derby aimed to mirror the dramatic events of the 2013 season, a win for the visitors would open up an opportunity for Jeonbuk to level Ulsan's points and overtake them on goals scored.

Jeonbuk were tasked with hosting a Gangwon FC side with nothing left to play for, yet the objective was not as straightforward as the situation would have suggested given the visitors' unpredictability. It would be the hosts who would carve open the first clear opportunity after eleven minutes, with Lee Dong-gook playing Moon Seon-min through who in turn squared it to the onrushing Kim Jin-su but the danger was dealt with by the backtracking defence.

Jeonbuk would continue to press yet found it difficult to thwart the visitors resolve. Gangwon would go on to have their first opportunity to play spoiler on the twentieth-minute mark when Lee Hyun-sik found himself in the area with the ball at his feet but pulled his shot narrowly wide as we was closed down by Jeonbuk defenders.

The hosts continued in search of a goal with Moon Seon-min who, having missed the Ulsan fixture last week through suspension, was key to driving the ball into the opposition's half and playing in his teammates.

As news began to filter into the stands that Pohang Steelers had taken a lead against Ulsan, the pressure was mounting on Jeonbuk to find a way through. It would not take long though, with Ricardo Lopes receiving a foul on the edge of the area and winning a free-kick. Taken by Lee Seung-gi, the cross in was met by the head of former Pohang man Son Jun-ho who glanced it towards the low far corner and in off the upright.

Elsewhere in Ulsan, Pohang had not only already ceded their lead thanks to a delightful Junior lob over their goalkeeper but looked to have regained it thanks to Stanislav Iljutcenko. However, VAR intervened and ruled out his header due to a foul in the build-up.

Jeonbuk would enter the interval with a 1-0 lead but still positioned in second as things remained all square in Ulsan. However, ten minutes into the second-half heard cheers ring out around Jeonju once more as Pohang had retaken their lead. As things stood, Jeonbuk were on course for the title.

Things began to lull as Jeonbuk looked to maintain their lead, and had to be bailed out by their goalkeeper Song Beom-keun who had to make a save with little time to see the shot from substitute Kim Hyeon-uk through the number of bodies that had fallen to the floor in the build-up.

By the 88th minute, news of Pohang's third goal was displayed on the screen for the whole stadium to see. Jeonbuk needed only to win to claim the title. The champions were resorting to desperate defending although substitute and former Pohang striker Ko Moo-yeol had the chance to settle any nerves in the ninetieth minute when provided the ball unmarked at the edge of the Gangwon area but pulled his shot narrowly wide.

It would not matter though with time being called five minutes later and the score in Ulsan now at a somewhat unbelievable 4-1 to The Steelers. Jeonbuk had kept their end of the bargain by eeking out a victory, taking advantage of Ulsan's shocking implosion to claim the 2019 K League 1 title.

This year's league title was the first won by the club not under the management of former head coach Choi Kang-hee and represents current manager José Morais first trophy for the club. By claiming glory, Jeonbuk have now matched the three-in-a-row victory streaks set previously by Seongnam on two occasions (1993-1995 and 2001-2003), in addition to matching the all-time number of K League titles won by a club (also set by Seongnam).

There is still work to be done and areas to be addressed by this Jeonbuk side as they look to go into a potentially record-breaking season in 2020. This year's K League 1 title race has not only exposed their flaws and fragility but has also allowed a serious challenger to come to the fore in Ulsan, a side who will also be looking to strengthen ahead of the next campaign. However, with attendances and viewing figures on the up, there has been no doubt that, while the trophy once again resides in Jeonju, this season has been one of the most hotly contested and dramatic in recent memory.

Highlights

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