Jeonbuk beats Ulsan to win K-League title
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC claimed its second Korea Professional Football League (K-League) championship in two years with a 2-1 victory over Ulsan Hyundai FC in the second leg of the series yesterday at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in North Jeolla.
Jeonbuk won the home-and-away championship series with a 4-2 aggregate score after stealing a 2-1 win on the road on Wednesday.
It was Jeonbuk’s second-ever K-League crown since claiming its first title in 2009. The team earned 300 million won ($265,960) while Ulsan, looking for its first title since 2005 and third overall, received 150 million won for second place.
Jeonbuk, the regular season champion, was well positioned to win the series after its away victory, as no K-League team has ever come back from a first-leg loss to win the title. The championship series put an end to Ulsan’s Cinderella run after becoming the first sixth-seeded squad to make it to the finals.
“I told my players to earn the title with a victory,” Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee said at the postgame press conference. “Because of the pressure, our performance wasn’t our best, but the players did a good job to seal the win.”
Choi added that the victory solidifies Jeonbuk’s emergence as an elite club. The team also finished second in this year’s Asian Football Confederation Champions League behind Qatar’s Al Sadd.
“With this win, I think we’ve built a foundation to become a prestigious club in the K-League,” Choi said. “We need more trophies, a bigger goal and a desire to achieve that.”
With 33,554 fans gathered to watch the final K-League match of the season, Jeonbuk failed to break through Ulsan’s tight defense in the first half.
Jeonbuk striker Lee Dong-gook, the second-best scorer in the regular season with 16 goals, earned a penalty in the 34th minute, but his shot was blocked by Ulsan goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang.
It was a crucial moment for Lee, the former Middlesbrough and Werder Bremen forward, since converting the penalty would have tied him with Woo Sung-yong on the all-time K-League scoring list with 116 goals.
The 0-0 deadlock was finally broken in the 56th, and it was Ulsan who took the lead with a goal from forward Seol Ki-hyeon. Seol, the 32-year-old veteran who once played in the English Premier League, received a pass from Brazilian Lucio Teofilio da Silva and blasted a shot past Jeonbuk goalkeeper Kim Min-sik.
But Ulsan’s one-goal lead lasted only two minutes as Jeonbuk earned another penalty and this time it was successfully converted by Enio.
The 30-year-old Brazilian was once again Jeonbuk’s savior. Before scoring twice in the first leg, Enio tallied two goals in the 2009 final, which Jeonbuk won 3-1. He now has five career goals in championship games, the most by any player in K-League history.
But Enio was not the only Brazilian who contributed to the team’s victory yesterday. Luiz, 30, stepped up in the 67th with a flashy goal, dribbling past two Ulsan defenders and firing a screamer just outside the penalty box to put the score at a comfortable 2-1.
Ulsan changed three players in hopes of turning the table around, but its attack couldn’t penetrate Jeonbuk’s defense.
“Giving up the penalty after leading 1-0 was a crucial moment for us,” said Ulsan coach Kim Ho-kon.
By Joo Kyung-don [email@example.com]