It has been a low-key start to the 2014 K-League season. Blame the Winter Olympics and the controversy surrounding Queen Yu-na Kim being awarded the silver medal to a local Russian skater despite most thinking she deserved to win. And then there was a big national team game away in Greece and then the 32nd campaign of Asia’s oldest professional league got underway. It started as the 2013 campaign finished with a late goal settling affairs between Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Horangi.
Readers will remember (how could they forget?) how Pohang scored in the last minute of the final game at Ulsan to take the title from their despondent hosts who had been five points clear with two games remaining. That day, Kim Shin-wook was suspended and went pitchside to celebrate for the final seconds only to arrive just as the Pohang end of the stadium was going crazy.
Three months on, he scored the only goal of the Dominoqq game to give the Tigers a winning start. It was a deserved win. Fans at the Steelyard, still celebrating their unlikely title win, got a reminder that Pohang may not be out in front this season after not strengthening, perhaps even becoming weaker over the winter.
FC Seoul fans know the feeling. Despite a classy win over Central Coast Mariners in the opening round of the Asian Champions League at the end of February, the club got a glimpse of life with stars Dejan Damjanovic and Ha Dae-sung, who moved to China at the start of the year. Seoul, who were beaten finalists in the 2013 Asian Champions League, lost 1-0 at home to Chunnam. Seoul habitually are slow starters and don’t have the best of records against the Dragons, one of the league’s smaller side, but the performance was as tame as white kimchi.
Jeonbuk Motors have moved into gear with ominous ease. The club has signed a number of players over the close season such as Han Kyo-won and 2002 star Kim Nam-il from Incheon as Brazilian duo Marcos Aurelio and Kaio. The club has decent strength in depth and when it talks of challenging for the K-League and the Asian Champions League, it has the talent to do so and was proved when the Jeonju club scored three great goals to sweep aside Busan I’Park on the opening day, just ten days after defeating Yokohama F Marinos by the same 3-0 scoreline.
Suwon Bluewings were the other big power to get off to a win, albeit a lucky 1-0 victory at jeju United thanks to a Lee Yong own goal. The Gyeonggi giants are looking to put a disappointing 2013 behind them and while three points won’t do that, they will help. Jeju, who signed a huge amount of players over the past few months, will need time to settle.
Elsewhere, military team Sangju Sangmi are back in the top flight and played out an entertaining 2-2 draw with Incheon United while the new Seongnam FC lost 1-0 to a late Luke Devere goal.
Park Chu-young reborn
It took just 12 minutes for the Arsenal striker to announce his return to the international stage as he thrashed a half-volley into the Greek net in Athens. Now on loan at Watford in the English championship, Park showed few signs of rust after his recent inaction and helped Korea to a fine 2-0 win the capital of the team ranked 12 in the world.
Son Heung-min grabbed the second in the second half, an equally sumptuous strike that almost tore the roof off the net. After some indifferent performances by the team in January against Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States, going forward Korea looked excellent at times. At the back, it wasn’t quite as impressive. But under coach Hong Myong-bo, who took the job just eight months ago, the team is moving in the right direction. Or so it seems.
So far in Asia, so good. Six games in and two draws and four wins. The K-League has a good record in Asia and while there is still some way to go in 2014, the start has been good. Especially impressive was Jeonbuk’s 3-0 defeat of Yokohama F. Marinos, even if the scoreline was slightly flattering, and Ulsan’s come from behind 3-1 win down under at the home of Western Sydney Wanderers.