South Korea’s two best teams had nights to remember in the opening round of Asian Champions League and face very different tests on matchday two this week. FC Seoul and Suwon Samsung Bluewings have also had mixed fortunes in the fledgling K-League season so far.
Seoul’s early season form got the headline writers in Korea far too excited. The capital club did impress by winning the first game at Chunnam Dragons by six goals to one. No K-League team scored six in the whole of 2008. Here was Seoul doing it on the first afternoon of the season.
Then coach Senol Gunes took his team to deepest Toto Hk Sumatra to play Sriwijaya of Palembang on Tuesday in the Asian club competition. In front of a passionate local crowd and temperatures a good deal higher than those left behind, the Koreans won 4-2. In truth the game was a little easier than the scoreline suggests. Only at 3-0 and with the end in sight did Seoul’s concentration waver.
Ten goals in two game led to headlines that were premature even by Gwanghwamun’s standards. “Gunes’ magic” went some and others were equally complimentary. The coach was quick to say that there was still a long way to go.
The last time he was lauded so early in the season was in 2007. Just after his arrival he led Seoul to three successive wins at the start of the season. Finally, the media said, here is a foreigner who can make a difference. Seoul then scored just one goal in the next nine matches.
If Gunes wasn’t keeping feet on the ground before last weekend, he is now. New K-League team Gangwon FC shocked the host by winning 2-1 on Saturday in a very chilly Seoul World Cup Stadium. The late goal caused scenes of unbridled joy among the orange-clad followers of the eastern club and also put the team on top of the league.
Gunes may be regretting his decision not to start with stars such as Ki Sung-yung, Lee Chung-yung, Kim Chi-woo and Adilson. “Ahead of the game against Gamba we decided to rest some of our players for what is a very important game for us,” he said. “Of course we still wanted to win but we didn’t play well. Tuesday will be a different match.”
Not far to the south, Suwon Bluewings were flying high last Wednesday. Defeated and deflated by an opening day defeat at the hands of Pohang Steelers, six-time Japanese champions Kashima Antlers came to town. The Ibaraki club left with Antlers well and truly twisted after a 4-1 defeat.
Chinese defender Li Weifeng was the star of the show, scoring the first. ‘Li Weifeng jjayo’ sang the fans, the Chinese equivalent of ‘Li fighting’ and on a night when Chinese clubs lost to their Japanese opponents, Li was hailed in the Chinese media that has often criticized the star for his disciplinary problems. Suwon is a new start for him and if things continue the way they started, he could be a great addition to the team and the league.
Suwon’s form in that league isn’t great. The Pohang loss was followed by a goalless draw at lowly Daejeon Citizen – though Daejeon World Cup Stadium has never been a happy hunting ground for the Bluewings.
Maybe Singapore will be better. Suwon travels to the city-state to face Singapore Armed Forces for its second match of the Asian Champions League. It is expected that Cha Bum-keun’s men will take the three points against the weakest team in the group but Suwon can’t afford to take the Warriors lightly. The Armed forces have fighting spirit and despite their 4-1 defeat in Shanghai last week, Singapore played most of the match with ten men and only succumbed to a flurry of late goals.
Pohang drew 0-0 in its opening Asian Champions League game in Australia against Central Coast Mariners and host Japanese club Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday. It is the turn of Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I to head down under as the southeasterners, who lost 3-1 at home to Nagoya Grampus last week, takes on Newcastle Jets.