Left is all right as Mota lifts Chunma to K-League titleA hard tackle in April broke Seongnam Ilhwa’s striker Mota’s right fibula and tore ligaments in his right ankle. He still bears the scars from surgery.
In the championship soccer game of the K-League, Mota relied on his other foot.
Mota scored two goals off his left foot to lift the Chunma to its seventh K-League title, with the 2-1 victory over the Suwon Samsung Bluewings Saturday. Seongam Ilhwa won the first game of the home-and-home championship series, determined by goal differential, with a score of 1-0 on Nov. 19. The Chunma needed only a tie to clinch the title.
After his injury in the spring, Mota returned to his native Brazil for an operation and rehabilitation, then rejoined the team in August despite speculation that the 26-year-old would be finished for the year.
“This is a sweet victory. I know many people didn’t expect us to reach the playoffs, and when we did, they didn’t expect us to go all the way,” Mota told reporters after the clincher. “The championship is the culmination of our team’s hard work for the entire year.”
He then spoke about his surgery and rehabilitation. Mota said the process was grueling physically and mentally. Upon returning to Korea, “The team was very supportive,” he said.
Head coach Kim Hak-beom continued to give Mota starting duties even as he was getting back into game shape.
Mota’s first goal came in the 25th minute, on a deflection of a Cho Byung-gook pass. The dagger came in the 65th minute, after the ball bounced off a Bluewings defender toward Mota, who was just inside the box.
The Bluewings cut the lead in half five minutes later on a header by Brazilian forward Silva, but it was too little too late for Suwon, who was seeking its fourth league championship.
Aside from Mota, the Chunma received solid contributions from playmaking midfielder Kim Do-heon and defender Jang Hack-young.
Kim, who Mota said is his best friend on the team, directed the offense in the clinching game, and began the drive that led to the first goal with a long centering pass.
The Korean national team player credited coach Kim and his teammates for helping him, and said that beating the Bluewings, the team that traded him last year, “felt pretty good.”
Jang called his 2006 season “an unforgettable one.” He made his debut on the national team, and his leadership on the Chunma’s four-defensive back system, which was missing injured veteran Kim Sang-sik was, in the words of coach Kim, “absolutely critical and a huge part of our success.”
The Bluewings were known for their defense, which featured national team stalwarts Kim Nam-il and Song Chong-gug. The team gave up just 22 goals in 26 regular season contests. But the Bluewings scored only 29 goals in those games, the fewest among playoff teams, and the lack of firepower haunted them in the final.
To add some sparkle, coach Cha Bum-kun inserted little-used Juan Manuel Olivera and Park Joo-sung as strikers, but neither made any significant impact. Cha acknowledged his move was “a failure.”
“Olivera [who hadn’t played in the playoffs until Saturday] has a knack for converting chances, but his lack of speed was a problem,” Cha said. “I thought Park and his speed would complement Olivera, but he was not in game shape today.”
He also blamed the psychological disadvantage of trailing the series for the loss.
“I think the burden of having lost the first game weighed on players more than I anticipated,” the Bluewings coach said. “I take my hat off to Seongnam. They were better, and they deserved to win.”
Coach Kim also said he felt his players were better and played harder than their opponents.
“I could sense that from the determined look on their faces, our boys just wanted this more,” Kim said in the post-championship press conference. “We could have won the championship with a tie today. But I knew our boys wanted to win this game for the championship. If they wanted to settle for a tie today, we would have lost.”
Kim became visibly emotional after the final whistle. Asked to describe his feelings, Kim said last year’s upset loss in the semifinal to the Ulsan Hyundai Tigers crossed his mind.
“I thought about last year’s failure [to win the title], and wondered what it would be like to come up short again this year,” the coach said. “I want to thank all my players for their efforts.”
He later singled out veteran forward Woo Seong-yong, another feel-good story for the Chunma.
The 33-year-old joined Seongnam after a trade from the Pohang Steelers in January last year. But seven months later, he underwent knee surgery, and was given up by many.
As he did with Mota, coach Kim stuck with Woo. The move also paid off, as Woo this season became the first Korean in three years to capture the goal-scoring title.
He scored 16 this year, and became the fourth K-League player to surpass the century mark in career goals. He got the lone goal in the first championship match on Nov. 19.
Woo also got his personal revenge against the Bluewings. The Suwon team beat Woo’s Steelers in the 2004 K-League finals.
by Yoo Jee-ho