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Suwon Samsung vs. Busan IPark: Promotion favorites set for Big Bird showdown

Title joint-favorites Suwon Samsung and Busan IPark meet for the first time this season in K League's blockbuster fixture. The pressure will be on the home team with a big crowd expected at Big Bird but after two defeats in three games, Busan need a performance and a result. It promises to be a cracker.

Match details

Match: Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs. Busan IPark.
Date: Sunday, March 31st, 2024. 16:30.
Venue: Suwon World Cup Stadium. Capacity 44,000.
Tickets: Interpark. Prices start at ₩15,000.
How to watch: K League TV

Record so far

Suwon Samsung vs.
Chungnam Asan (h). Won 2-1.
Seoul E-Land (a). Lost 2-1.
Ansan Greeners (a). Won 1-0.

Busan IPark vs.
Seoul E-Land (h). Lost 3-0.
Gyeongnam FC (a). Won 4-1.
Gimpo FC (h). Lost 1-0.

Both clubs advanced to the third round of the Korea Cup last Sunday, unconvincingly at the expense of lower-league opposition. Suwon spent the best part of an hour trying to fashion a meaningful chance against Chuncheon Citizen before Kim Hyun grabbed his first for the club. Chuncheon shocked the home crowd with an equalizer 10 minutes from time. Seo Dong-han responded a minute later to send Suwon through.

Busan were a step closer to elimination when Ulsan Citizen, of K3, took the one-time champions to penalty kicks in Asaid. The game ended 0-0 after 90 minutes but Busan prevailed 4-3 on penalties. Their home form has been a real concern since Chungbuk Cheongju blew up their promotion pasty last December.

A major test for Yeom Ki-hun's title challengers

Unsurprisingly, Suwon have found life difficult in K League 2 following a painful relegation last December. Against three sides that finished in the bottom half, the Bluewings have toiled, hogging possession but lacking creativity and width. At the back, they have been uncertain, resulting in red cards to centre-backs Jo Yoon-sung and Park Dae-won.

Yet, Suwon have two wins from three and arguably produced their best performance in defeat, against Seoul E-Land. After falling behind, there was a directness and pace about their play which undoubtedly pleased their large traveling support. They left empty-handed, thanks to a sublime injury-time winner, but the signs were encouraging. Injuries have also hampered momentum. Maxwell Acosty was released last week, and two winter recruits, Park Sang-hyuk and Choi Ji-mok, are long-term absentees. 

The return of Japanese midfielder Kozuka Kazuki against Chuncheon was surely met with a giant sigh of relief by the home fans. Within seconds of his introduction, Kazuki showed his defensive qualities making a vital interception as Chuncheon mounted an attack. Later, the crowd was stunned after a deft change of direction left two defenders for dead followed by a sublime, if slightly overcooked, left-footed pass. Kozuka looked up to the blue skies in despair, but everyone inside Big Bird appreciated what they saw. Kozuka is a game changer, provided he keeps his cool.

Sunday will be a proper test of Suwon's title credentials. Busan have dangermen in attacking positions to punish any lapses in concentration, no matter how many sideways passes Suwon rack up. And then there's An Byeong-jun, limited to bench appearances since returning to Busan. He might have a point to prove against his former employers. What price on a first goal in his second stint coming this weekend?

Busan to flourish away from home

Busan IPark's rollercoaster start to the season is more difficult to understand. Perhaps they are suffering a mega hangover after last season's epic collapse? A reminder, if needed, of how quickly it all unfolded; with two regular season games to go, Busan needed just three points to guarantee promotion. They took one point from six. Then, in the play-off with Suwon FC, Busan needed to successfully defend a two-goal advantage with 12 minutes to play. They couldn't, and in K League 2 they stayed.

This season started with a shocking 3-0 home loss to Seoul E-Land. On closer inspection, though, Busan were unlucky. Trailing by a goal with less than 10 minutes to play they thought their dominance was rewarded with a penalty. VAR ruled it out. From the resulting kick out, striker An Byeong-jun was through on goal, only for Osmar's miraculous last-ditch tackle. A 4-1 win in Changwon was followed by a damaging loss to Gimpo FC. Again Busan dominated (19 shots to 4, 60% possession), and again they lost.

An Byeong-jun: a point to prove?
Now Park Jin-sub's men are back in Suwon, still haunted by December's late collapse in the same city. Leaving Asiad might suit Busan (they have yet to win any of their 3 home games in both competitions) and IPark have the players to punish Suwon. The Bluewings don't create too many genuine goal-scoring opportunities and their back-line can certainly be, as they say, got at; meaning Busan will be a dangerous proposition for the home side.

The results have been mediocre but some of the performances are encouraging. Is this Busan team in freefall after last season's meltdown, or will it all click, starting on Sunday, and they begin to lay waste to the title pretenders?

Key men

Yang Hyeong-mo wears the captain's armband this season and the big goalkeeper will need to be at his best if Suwon are to win on Sunday. The Bluewings have kept just one clean sheet all season (against the team that finished 12th in 2023) but Yang has not been at fault for the goals. Lapses in concentration and sloppy exits have been a feature of the backline, and Kozuka's absence has been felt in all areas of the field. It would be helpful if the centre-backs stopped receiving suspensions so Han Ho-gang has a regular partner next to him. Until that happens, the 33-year-old keeper will have to bail out his teammates' errors.

Suwon will need their goalkeeper and captain to produce a big performance.

Bruno Lamas turns 30 a couple of weeks after Sunday's showdown so three points (topped off with a goal or an assist) would be a nice early present for the Brazilian. Lamas was sensational last season, with 10 goals and 8 assists in 33 regular season appearances, and two more goals in the play-off against Suwon FC. The number 10 wasn't able to influence the return in Castle Park, which probably contributed to Busan's late defeat. This season, Lamas has one goal in three league games and Sunday's big occasion will appeal to him. If Lee Jong-sung or the Suwon defenders switch off (which they are prone to doing), Lamas is the man to exploit that.

Bruno Lamas, the man with the talent to hurt Suwon on Sunday.

A rare meeting in recent times

This is one of the few fixtures in K League 2 that Suwon have yet to play for the first time. The Bluewings and Busan have history; a combined eight top-flight wins, and for three seasons up to 1999, they owned the championship between them. Now demoted to K League 2, Suwon welcome Busan to Big Bird for the first time in nearly four years. The Bluewings won that game, 3-1, with the final goal scored by their current manager, Yeom Ki-hun. Busan are approaching 10 years since their last league win over Suwon.


It would be easier to predict a Bluewings win if Busan weren't so threatening in defeat. However, there's just a nagging suspicion that, especially away from home, it will just neatly fall into place for Busan sooner rather than later. And when it does, most clubs in the league will be simply swept away. 

Suwon Samsung 1-2 Busan IPark

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