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Ruthless Dragons put 11 past K5 team Cheongsol FC

Jeonnam Dragons showed no mercy to their K5 opponents, Cheongsol FC, in the FA Cup on the weekend, scoring no fewer than eleven goals over the 90 minutes and it could've been more if marginal offsides and easy chances went their way, setting FA Cup and club records in the process. KLU's Joshua Higgins gives his opinion on the game. 

Result: Jeonnam Dragons 11 : 0 Daegu Cheongsol FC

Jeonnam Dragons hammered their opposition in the 2nd round of the FA Cup, scoring more goals in one game than they have managed in the previous 10 combined, raising questions of competitiveness in the lower leagues of Korean football, squad sizes, and whether Dragon's manager Jeon Kyung- jun was morally, and tactically, right in his desire to inflict such a score-line on a team comprising of amateurs.

A group of eleven players try their best to score as many goals as they can against another group of eleven players, so far so good. No questions of disrespect, unfairness, or controversy, just goals, goals, and more goals, football fans rejoice! Most would agree that competitiveness and trying your best to win is integral to sport in general and to put in a lack of effort, especially with lower league opposition, is the ultimate sign of disrespect, and I agree. However, things get murkier the more you contemplate decisions made by the Dragons manager before and during the match. 

Firstly, the opponents. There's little to find on the internet about K5 team Cheongsol FC, hailing from the city of Daegu, who ply their trade in the amateur K5 league. In Korea, K League 1 and K League 2 are the only true professional leagues, with K3 and K4 being semi-professional, and K5 down to K7 being classed as amateur. And to watch the game on Saturday it was obvious these weren't paid professionals. Tactically, physically and technically they were outdone. Truth be told, the Cheongsol match probably held less value and competitiveness than a mid-week training game, and wouldn't have done much for the confidence of the players who did play, as they would have recognised the level of team they were facing.

Secondly, the line up. At first glance, a good mix of players weren selected, six players who made their season debut, three first team regulars and two who have made sporadic substitute appearances, but when you dive deeper into the players making their season debut, the team is a lot stronger than many might initially think, there are players who show up such as Jang Soon-hyeok, a seasoned defender with lots of K League 2 experience with Chungnam Asan and Bucheon 1995, Kim Seon-woo, who made several appearances in the previous two seasons with last season high flyers Sangju Sangmu (before they became Gimcheon and were forcibly relegated) and Jeonnam Dragons when they were in K League 1, Kim Gyeong-min who has accumulated over 3200 minutes of first team football in both K League 1 and 2 over the last few seasons, and Kim Han-gil who appeared numerous times for FC Seoul last season. When you combine that with the decision to bring on first team regulars such as Samuel and Balotelli after your team is already winning 8-0, it's difficult to see the benefit of adding to Cheongsol's misery.

Thirdly, the squad. As with every K League 1 and 2 team, Jeonnam have a large squad, almost enough to field three separate first elevens. Including the six who were given season debuts against Cheongsol, 21 players have had a chance to impress this season so far. So, with arguably the easiest game Dragons will play all season (possibly ever?), when will the other nine players who are yet to make an appearance be able to put on the Dragons shirt in a competitive match? If the answer is never, then it begs the question, what is the point of K League clubs having such large squads if there are so many players who don't get a chance to play? The Cheongsol game was the perfect opportunity to give the youth a chance to prove themselves, including giving 18 year old forward Choi Seong-jin a run out, who didn't even earn a place on the bench. Instead, 30 year old Park Hee-seong was selected in the starting 11. That chance has been lost, and likely won't be coming around again any time soon. The Korean FA does plan to cut squad size down to a maximum of 28 by the 2025 season, but although the problem has been recognised, perhaps it doesn't go far enough. Players need to be playing regularly to develop, and this is something fans of K League should be concerned about, particularly for young Korean strikers, as the league is littered with foreign attackers who prevent them getting much needed minutes.

Fourthly, the benefits. What did manager Jeon learn from this destruction? Bringing on players such as Samuel might've raised their confidence as he got his first goal of the season (a three yard tap in), but Jeonnam fans would surely have winced when the forward went down after a challenge clutching his knee late on, and the same in the 29th minute when striker Alex went down and needed to receive medical treatment, thankfully both players were able to continue. But say they did get injured, with games against Daejeon and Ansan coming up, was the confidence booster really worth the risk when there were plenty of capable players at Jeon's disposal?

Lastly, I'd like to bring up competitiveness in Korean football, the football pyramid in Korea is due to be opened up within the next few seasons if all goes well, currently K League 2 clubs cannot be relegated to K3 but this will soon change. However, performances like this highlight the vast gulf in class between the pros and amateurs that must be closed quickly if Korean football is to improve. There are a wealth of different avenues the KFA could go down to address this issue, but discussion of that deserves a separate series of articles.

Perhaps Jeonnam fans should be celebrating the fact that Jeonnam managed to score more than one goal in a game. Perhaps if Jeon Kyung-jun had played a much weakened team I would be sitting here writing about one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history. And perhaps there were solid reasons why he chose the team he did, and made the substitutions he made. But as someone who wants to see Korean football grow and evolve, I hope scorelines like this don't become too common in the future, and that the standard of football improves all across the board, not just in the upper echelons of Korean football, despite my team being on the right side of such a thrashing... this time. 

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