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2020 FA Cup Semifinal Preview

2020 FA Cup Semi-Final Preview

Wednesday evening sees the FA Cup Semifinals take place with an East Coast Derby between Ulsan Hyundai and Pohang Steelers to be contested in addition to a repeat of the 2014 semifinal between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Seongnam FC. Ulsan columnist Dan Croydon and Jeonbuk writer Matthew Binns preview both matches.

#EastCoastDerby: Ulsan Hyundai Vs. Pohang Steelers - 19:30 KST

The East Coast neighbours go head to head once again this Wednesday evening when Ulsan Hyundai host Pohang Steelers at Munsu Stadium for a spot in this year's KFA Cup final.  

Their fierce rivalry may have been forged over sixteen years and 145 league games, but this will be just the fourth time the "Donghaean Derby" has graced Korea's premier knockout competition.

All three previous meetings also came at the semi-final stage, with Pohang edging the overall record two to one. The most recent game was in 2001 when a certain 22-year-old striker Lee Dong-gook was amongst the scorers for the Steelers in a 2-1 extra-time victory.

Pohang may have won four FA Cups to Ulsan's one, but the Horangi have had much the better record in this competition in recent years.  Since the Steelers did the double in 2013, they have not made it past the quarter-final stage, losing at the first time of asking four years in a row between 2016 and 2019.

Meanwhile, in the six iterations since 2015, Ulsan have made it to three semi-finals, were runners-up once, and won their first FA Cup title -- a 2-1 victory over Busan I-Park in 2017.

So, Pohang have the pedigree and Ulsan have the form. And that is also true for their meetings so far this season too. In the two derby games in the league, Kim Do-hoon's table-toppers have gone about enacting revenge for last year's heartbreaking final day humiliation at the hands of Pohang by bulldozing their way to 4-0 and 2-0 victories. And with one more vital post-split clash to come, Wednesday night's semi-final may also serve as a prelude to yet more title run-in drama.

In terms of team news, it will be interesting to see where this game sits in terms of the priorities of the two managers.  Sandwiched between the end of the regular season and the start of the post-split final rounds, Kim Do-hoon may be tempted to experiment with his team while giving a few senior players time to re-energise. It's been a tough few weeks for the Horangi, as they faltered in the league just as it seemed they would pull clear of Jeonbuk.

That means runaway top goal scorer Junior Negrao could make way for Bjorn Johnsen as the lone striker, although the Brazilian did start in Ulsan's quarter-final win over Gangwon. Meanwhile, the return from injury of winger Kim In-sung, who has recorded four goals and six assists this campaign, may be just what Ulsan need in the final weeks of the season. Whether such a key player is risked in the cup will be an indication of Kim Do-hoon's intentions.

On the other hand, Pohang gaffer Kim Gi-dong will be loath to change a team that has won four of its last five league games. And as the Steelers currently sit in third place with a seven-point cushion over Daegu in fifth, there won't be too much pressure on them to get much out of the final five games; Asian Champions League qualification is looking very likely, so Kim Gi-dong should be free to name the strongest side he can in the pursuit of the club's first silverware in seven years.   

Free of distractions then, Pohang will be slight favourites on Wednesday night. If they can carry their league form into this match and put pressure on Ulsan early on, then they should progress to the final. 

However, Ulsan are not going to just roll over for their neighbours to the north, and we know they have the quality to put any side to the sword when the mood takes them. Expect a closely fought encounter that could go all the way to spot kicks.

- Dan Croydon

#JEOvSFC: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Vs. Seongnam FC - 19:00 KST

The FA Cup semifinal in Jeonju this Wednesday mirrors that of six seasons ago when Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors were knocked out of the competition by eventual winners Seongnam FC on penalties after a goalless draw.

A lot has changed since then in regards to both clubs fortunes, with Jeonbuk having gone on to match Seongnam's league title record whilst the Magpies suffered relegation and have since returned to the top flight.

In regards to the history of this competition, the FA Cup has often alluded Jeonbuk, with the club last lifting in back in 2005 under a then newly appointed and unproven manager by the name of Choi Kang-hee. Not only that, but the trophy has subsequently avoided the likes of Jeonbuk's longer serving players, with 41-year-old captain Lee Dong-gook still yet to have claimed the title despite his illustrious career.

2014's FA Cup triumph was also Seongnam's last piece of silverware after they overcame rivals FC Seoul in the final and claimed an AFC Champions League spot for the following campaign. Like their opponents on Wednesday, Seongnam have also picked up this trophy on three occassions during their history and will be hoping passage to this year's final could lead to an unlikely triumph once more.

Ahead of this fixture, Jeonbuk have almost a clean bill of health although centre-back Choi Bo-kyung and Son Jun-ho were absent from Sunday's 2-0 win over Busan, raising potential doubts over their availability. Signs would suggest manager José Morais will look to field a reasonably strong side, having removed Han Kyo-won, Takahiro Kunimoto and Gustavo early at the weekend in preparation for this match. All three will likely prove key to the home side finding a result on Wednesday.

There is further incentive for the club to lift the trophy this season as well, knowing that only the league champions and cup winners will have direct qualification into next year's AFC Champions League competition. With Ulsan still favourites for the title, starting next season earlier with a qualification playoff, especially after 2020's Champions League is set to wrap up in December, would not suit any team's pre-season schedule.

As for Seongnam, while their first team may well be available, manager Nam Ki-il may harbour doubts after witnessing a disappointing showing at the weekend, losing 2-0 to Gwangju FC and condemning themselves to the bottom half of the Final Round.

That said, Seongnam boast a favourable record against Jeonbuk this season, holding them to 2-2 draw in Jeonju before defeating them 2-0 in Tancheon only a few rounds ago. The Magpies have often been able to frustrate Jeonbuk this season, limiting chances with an organised defence whilst still managing to test their opponent's backline considerably.

While Na Sang-ho has understandably been grabbing the headlines as Seongnam's biggest threat in recent weeks, it was wingers Park Su-il and Yu In-soo who found the most joy against Jeonbuk last time these sides met, with the latter first scoring before then assisting Seongnam's second. The pair tormented the Green Warriors full back positions while in a state of post-Kim Jin-su uncertainty although, with Jeonbuk having looked more assured in their last two outings, they may find it more difficult on this occasion if they feature.

Regardless, having shown twice already this season that they are capable of matching the champions, Seongnam will feel confident of heading to Jeonju once more and potentially overturning their opponents. Jeonbuk are prioritising this competition moreso than in recent years, yet know that their main focus must remain on the title chase, meaning that an upset could once again be on the cards.

- Matthew Binns

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