Race for top half heats up in S. Korean pro football league

September 21, 2018

SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) — The race to enter the upper echelon of the South Korean pro football league is heating up as clubs that are on the bubble look to secure the few remaining spots.

South Korea’s K League 1 uses a system in which 12 teams are divided into two groups after 33 matches. Those who are in the upper group will fight for the league title and tickets to the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) next year, while teams in the lower group compete to avoid relegation to the second division K League 2.

With five matches remaining until the split, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Gyeongnam FC have already secured their spots in the upper half. Third place Ulsan Hyundai are also believed to be in the safe zone.

But from fourth-place Suwon Samsung Bluewings to 10th-place Daegu FC, teams face a fierce battle to make the top six.

This file photo, taken Aug. 15, 2018, shows Suwon Samsung Bluewings and FC Seoul players vying for the ball in their K League 1 match at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

This file photo, taken Aug. 15, 2018, shows Suwon Samsung Bluewings and FC Seoul players vying for the ball in their K League 1 match at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

Suwon currently have 41 points from 11 wins, eight draws and nine losses. They are followed by Pohang Steelers (37 points), Gangwon FC (34 points), Jeju United (34 points), FC Seoul (33 points), Sangju Sangmu (32 points) and Daegu FC (32 points).

There is a nine-point difference between No. 4 Suwon and No. 10 Daegu, meaning their positions could change, depending on the results of their next three matches.

Suwon, now managed by caretaker Lee Byung-keun, have only one win in their last six league matches. They have a tough league schedule ahead until the split.

Suwon did advance to the ACL semifinals on Wednesday after edging out Jeonbuk on penalties. But they will meet Jeonbuk again in their K League 1 game on Sunday and will face No. 6 Gangwon and No. 3 Ulsan later this month.

Pohang, five-time K League champions, will have a relatively easy schedule this month, facing bottom teams Incheon United, Sangju and Daegu.

This file photo, taken Aug. 22, 2018, shows a K League 1 match between FC Seoul and Pohang Steelers at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul.

This file photo, taken Aug. 22, 2018, shows a K League 1 match between FC Seoul and Pohang Steelers at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul.

Gangwon and Jeju will have a crucial match on Sunday as they will go head-to-head.

Both teams have struggled to collect wins in recent matches. Since their 7-0 win over Incheon on Aug. 19, Gangwon have accumulated one draw and three losses.

Jeju, last year’s runners-up, are even worse. They have not collected a win in their last 13 matches, posting only seven draws and six losses. With key defender Oh Ban-suk recently completing his move to United Arab Emirates side Al-Wasl, the club is desperate to end its winless streak.

Seoul are also looking to end their slump. The 2016 champions haven’t played in the lower group since the split system was introduced in 2012.

Seoul bagged only one draw and four losses in their last five matches, scoring just once and conceding nine goals.

Sangju and Daegu are looking to climb the league table this month, and the two teams will square off on Saturday in what could be a decisive match for both.

Recent performance favors Daegu, as they are on a three-game winning streak even without their star goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, who is recovering from knee injury.

This file photo, taken Aug. 8, 2018, shows Daegu FC players celebrating after scoring a goal against Yangpyeong FC in their Korea Football Association Cup round of 16 match at Daegu Stadium in Daegu. (Yonhap)

This file photo, taken Aug. 8, 2018, shows Daegu FC players celebrating after scoring a goal against Yangpyeong FC in their Korea Football Association Cup round of 16 match at Daegu Stadium in Daegu. (Yonhap)

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