Welcome to the first of many roundups of the South Korean top flight, the K League 1. The league has already been going for a while but not to worry, I’ll bring you up to speed. The K League also has a somewhat unusual format, which will also be explained in greater detail just a bit further down this page. So sit back, relax, scroll down with your mouse (or your finger if you’re on the phone) and let me take you through the eight round of the K-League 1.
So how does this work then?
Before that though, let’s start with the league system. There are 12 teams in the K League 1, the top two teams in the table go to the Champions League Group Stage while the third-placed team goes to the play-off round. The bottom team is relegated to K League 2 and the second to last placed team has to play in a relegation play-off. That all sounds nice and easy right? But then they throw you a curve ball. From round 1 to 22 all teams play each other twice, home and away, and that should be it for the season, or so you would think. There’s then another ten rounds where the 12 teams play each other only once, making up rounds 23 through 33. But it doesn’t end there either.
For matches 34-38 the league splits in two at the middle, with six teams in each group. Those teams then play the others in their group once. The league table at the time of the split is used to determine who get’s home matches in what games. And after those five games are played we have our winner and relegated team.
Any tasty foreigners to look out for?
As with most Asian leagues, the K League has a foreign player limit, restricting the amount of foreign players each club is allowed to have. In South Korea that limit is 3+1, meaning each club can have three foreigners from all over the world and one extra foreigner from another Asian country. All four are allowed to be on the pitch at the same time. There are unlikely to be many foreigners you would have heard of however, most of the Brazilians have all come straight to the K-League from their home country and the Europeans who ply their trade here are mostly Eastern Europeans who’ve never made it in Europe.
However, if you are Australian or someone from Scotland, or maybe even Portugal, you might be in a little more luck as Aussies Dylan McGowan and Matthew Jurman play for Gangwon and Suwon Samsung Bluewings respectively. McGowan played 64 times for Hearts in Scotland between 2010 and 2014 and is on loan to Gangwon from Pacos de Ferreira in Portugal. Jurman has never been to Europe but what he does have are four caps for the Australian national team, the Socceroos, all gained last year from his impressive form in Korea.
What’s been happening so far?
Right, so let me catch you up really quick on the action you’ve missed so far this season. There have been seven games played before the round that was this weekend and reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have taken out a slim four-point lead over Suwon Samsung Bluewings. There will be no invincible season in South Korea this year as everyone has lost at least one match so far. Jeonnam Dragons, who barely escaped potential relegation last season, only staving off the relegation play-off thanks to goal difference, are back in the mud this year sitting rock bottom. However, there are four teams only one point ahead of them with Daegu, Incheon and last years fifth-place FC Seoul all on six points. It’s been a good start to the season for the newcomers from Gyeongnam and they sit all the way up in third place, only one point of second.
Let’s start this roundup properly then. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, this is what you really came for.
This league is a red-card festival
We go back to Saturday morning, UK time, where two matches were played, one between Seoul and Daegu and the other between Jeonnam and Gangwon. Let’s start in Seoul.
In this match, both teams wanted to win to avoid getting stuck in the bottom portion of the table while their opponent got a nice gap, and it was Seoul who started the brightest. Only 13 minutes were played before Evandro Paulista put Seoul in front. That goal was enough to take them through to half-time in the lead and when Ko Yo-han added another in the 52nd minute, Seoul looked comfortable. To make matters worse for Daegu Kim Jin-hyeok scored an own goal for 3-0 to Seoul and Kim Gyeong-joon got himself sent off in added time.
In the other early kick-off bottom of the table, Jeonnam Dragons were still searching for their first win since their opening day heroics against Suwon. They hoped it could come against mid-table Gangwon. However, it would soon be clear that this was not to be their day either. Two early goals from Serbian Uros Deric put Gangwon 2-0 up after only 15 minutes and when Jung Suk-hwa added a third ten minutes before the break the match was as good as over. However, Jeonnam got a faint bit of hope when Kim Ho-jun got sent off only two minutes into the second half, but a third goal for Deric twenty minutes later crushed any and all possibilities of a point for the bottom side. Kim Young-wook made the scoreline look a little better as he pulled one back with eight minutes to go, to make it 1-4 to Gangwon in the end.
In the eight o’clock kick off Pohang Steelers hosted Sangju Sangmu and it was the away side who got the better start as Sim Dong-woon put them ahead after 34 minutes. Despite Pohang pressure in the second half it wasn’t to be for them and Shin Chang-mu made that clear when he put the guests 2-0 up with just two minutes left to play.
Over to yesterday’s fixtures where league leaders Jeonbuk visited Jeju United and what ensued was a tightly contested match, opened up even more by two red cards! Ricardo Lopes put Jeonbuk in front after 26 minutes before promptly getting sent off ten minutes later. But Jeju’s advantage didn’t last long as Lee Chang-dong got booked for a second yellow and also had to take an early shower just two minutes later. Over in the second half, Jeju could not find a way through the Jeonbuk defence and Ricardo Lopes ended up the hero despite only playing a little over half an hour in the match.
With Jeonbuk’s win earlier in the day Suwon Bluewings knew they had to win to keep up and not let the gap grow to seven points, but in their way stood an Incheon United side in desperate need for points, and Suwon were resting many of their key players after their Champions League exploits in midweek.
Therefore it didn’t come entirely as a surprise that it was the relegation contenders Incheon who struck first. The blue and black striped side took the lead when Costa Rican international Elias Aguilar sent a free-kick underneath the wall and into the net after 16 minutes. Suwon then drew level just before half-time when youngster Jeon Se-jin put the ball in the back of the net, in his first K League game nonetheless. In the second half Incheon once again struck first as Moon Seon-min scored the home side’s second of the day, but just ten minutes later Lim Sang-hyub pulled Suwon back. And then. Moments before the whistle was about to be blown for the final time, Park Hyung-jin gave Suwon the win two minutes into the added time. Heartache for Incheon but a sigh of relief from the Suwon fans.
The final match this round saw surprise package Gyeongnam and Ulsan Hyundai draw 0-0 in a match that was far from boring despite the lack of goals. Gyeongnam still sit third but have slowed down considerably from their hot start and now only have one win in their last five.
When can I have more of this glorious league?
So that’s all from South Korea this week. There is a mid-week round this week so expect a roundup of that on Thursday.