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Busan's Peres Faces Baptism of Fire in E-Land Opener


Portuguese manager Ricardo Peres takes charge of his first K League match on Sunday afternoon – leading recently relegated Busan IPark out against last season’s surprise package Seoul E-Land. Can Busan return to the K League 2 with a win, or will the Leopards silence Gudeok Stadium with a sobering reminder of life in the second division? Tomas Marcantonio previews.


Match Overview

Match: Busan IPark vs Seoul E-Land (K League 2, Round 1)

Venue: Gudeok Stadium, Busan 

Kick-off: Sunday, February 28th, 2021 - 16:00 (KST)

Winter Preparations

Busan IPark's new manager Ricardo Peres
Busan IPark ended 2020 with a shambolic collapse that saw them relegated from the K League 1 after only one season back in the top flight. Since then it’s been all change at the club, with Ricardo Peres coming in to oversee a thorough squad overhaul. Peres has promised more of a focus on youth this year, and if pre-season friendlies are anything to go by, Busan will be heavily reliant on their youngsters this term. 

Busan won four of their eight warm-up matches, mostly against lower league opposition, although a 2-1 win over title favourites Gimcheon Sangmu will give the squad some confidence going into the opening game. Busan Under-20 star Park Jeong-in, newly signed from Ulsan Hyundai, was Busan’s star performer in pre-season, netting four goals for his new club.

Many of Busan’s other new signings, including striker An Byong-jun and centre back Valentinos Sielis, only joined up with the squad towards the end of pre-season. With a smaller squad than usual, however, Peres may decide to throw his new recruits in at the deep end.

Seoul E-Land, meanwhile, were one of 2020’s biggest success stories. The perennial K League 2 strugglers were transformed last year under Chung Jung-yong and were ultimately unfortunate not to make the playoffs. The Leopards will be aiming to go one better this time round, and pre-season preparations suggest that success is well within their grasp. The team trained in Mokpo and Jeju in the off season, and reports from the camp suggest that the players have trained at higher intensity with the aim of starting the season with a bang. 

Having retained several key players and bolstered their squad with some sensible additions, Seoul might fancy their chances at ending a rotten run against the Royals. Busan have won six of the last seven against the Leopards, scoring 25 goals along the way. Busan will likely find their opponents a very different team to the one they last faced in 2019, however…

New Faces Key to Victory?

Busan IPark are no strangers to opening day shockers. In fact, despite their relative success over recent seasons, they have only won one of their opening fixtures in the last five years. The last time they were relegated to the K League 2, they lost 3-1 at home to Asan on the opening day, while they began 2019 with a humbling 4-1 home defeat to FC Anyang.

Busan’s chances of picking up points on Sunday may depend on how quickly their new signings have settled. A new-look back four featuring new signings Valentinos Sielis, Choi Jun and Park Min-gyu will need to show some form of cohesion despite having played only one or two friendly games each prior to the opening round of fixtures. A flurry of new attacking signings, including former Ulsan pair Lee Sang-heon and Jung Hoon-sung, will also be keen to make an instant impact to cement their places in the team.

Seoul E-Land duo Leandro and William Barbio
Seoul E-Land’s team could be a far more cohesive unit on Sunday, with last year’s manager and key players all returning for another stab at promotion. Chung Jung-yong is likely to largely keep faith with the side that impressed last season, but there may be room for a few of the new signings to make an impact on the opening day.

New midfielder Kim Seon-min could be a shrewd acquisition from Daegu, bringing poise and experience in the middle, while Cho Hyang-gi and Lee In-jae bolster a defence that also features Korean youth international Lee Sang-min, signed permanently after a successful loan spell. Former Boca Juniors striker Nicolas Benegas adds height to the front line, while William Barbio will also hope to form a partnership with fellow speedster Leandro up front. Seoul will look to attack primarily down the wings, mixing long balls with a quicker pass-and-move style. If Busan aren't prepared for Seoul's speed, power, and tactical flexibility, the Royals' debutant defenders could face an opening game to forget.

Who to Watch - An Byong-jun


Busan and Seoul are expected to be fighting for playoff places come the closing stages of the season, and Sunday’s encounter could be a matchup of a heavily reshuffled Busan side against a largely settled Seoul team. If Busan are to have a chance of keeping the points on the south coast, they may need something special from one of their new boys. The stage could be set, then, for last year’s league MVP An Byong-jun to announce himself to the Busan faithful.

The North Korean international scored 21 goals last year to spearhead Suwon FC to promotion, and a similar return this year would give Busan a fighting chance of a return to the top flight. A striker capable of scoring all kinds of goals, An could well be the most significant signing of the transfer window. If he gets a sniff of a chance on Sunday, Busan may well end up with a new hero in their ranks.

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