Defending champions advance in K-League play
Defending K-League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors advanced to the semifinals of the 2010 K-League Championship playoffs and earned a spot in 2011 AFC Champions League tourney in the process with a win over visitors Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma on Wednesday night in Jeonju, North Jeolla.
Jeonbuk will now face second-seed Jeju United in the semifinals on Sunday afternoon with the winner advancing to the finals to play FC Seoul in a two game home-and-away series.
With the second round win, Jeonbuk has earned the last of four automatic bids to the 2011 AFC Champions League tournament.
The Suwon Bluewings earned the first spot with a FA Cup win on Oct. 24, while FC Seoul and Jeju United - the two clubs with top regular season records - were awarded the other two spots. The 2010 AFC Champions League winners, Seongnam, which was also crowned as Asia’s best club at the AFC Annual Awards will not get a chance to defend its title at the AFC Champions League next year.
“We reached our initial goal of earning a spot in next year’s Champions League tourney,” said Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee. “It will be important not to place too much pressure on ourselves.”
Jeonbuk defender Cho Sung-hwan connected on a header to score the lone goal of the game in the 22nd minute of the match against Seongnam and held on for a 1-0 win on Wednesday.
“We scored the opening goal of the game relatively early on,” said Choi. “We were able to protect the one-goal lead with the determined effort of our players. We are a bit concerned about the conditioning of our players but they are starting to play better. I think we have a good shot at winning our next game.”
Jeonbuk boasts one of the top offenses in the league led by Eninho and Luiz Henrique of Brazil, Lee Dong-gook, and Krunoslav Lovrek of Yugoslavia. Eninho was second in league scoring with 17 goals while Lee was ninth with 12 goals, and Lovrek was 13th with nine goals. Jeonbuk is the only squad with three players in the top 15 scoring leaders.
“Jeonbuk boasts a dangerous offense led by Luiz, Eninho and Lee Dong-gook,” said Jeju United manager Park Kyung-hoon. “We will prepare and focus on playing to our strengths.”
Jeju’s strength is in its midfield and defense. Both Jeonbuk and Jeju scored 54 goals but Jeonbuk allowed 36, while Jeju proved to be the better organized and defensive club with 25 goals allowed. Jeonbuk will also have to play at Jeju World Cup Stadium where Jeju United has not lost a single game all season. Jeju holds a record of 12 wins and eight draws in the regular season, including a nine game winning streak between April 18 and Sept. 4.
Park will have his center midfielder Koo Ja-cheol and center defender Hong Jeong-ho return to the lineup after competing with the U-23 national team at the 2010 Guangzhou Asiad.
By Jason Kim [email@example.com]