K-League heats up as season split approaches

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K-League heats up as season split approaches

The Taegeuk Warriors’ quest for the country’s first Olympic medal in football has stolen the spotlight, but the K-League season is heating up with critical matches overlapping with the 17-day tournament in London.

Beginning tomorrow, the domestic football league’s 16 teams will enter a rigorous three-week stretch.

Each team will play six matches during the period, or one match every three or four days. Those games will be decisive in determining the grouping for the remainder of the season.

For the first time in its history, the top football league has introduced a split system this year, dividing the teams in two as the top group battles for the title while the lower group fights to stave off relegation.

The K-League has completed 21 out of 30 rounds before the split system is applied. Until the London Olympics wrap up on Aug. 12, six more rounds will be finished.

The Jeonbuk Motors are leading the league with 46 points off 14 wins, three losses and four draws, four points ahead of second-place FC Seoul and seven points ahead of the third-place Suwon Bluewings.

Lee Heung-sil, acting coach of the Motors, said the team won’t be complacent and will use the three-week period to secure its position atop the table.

“It is too early to say that we are a dominant force,” Lee said. “Three weeks from late July is an important test for us. Besides the physical condition, the players will have to be cautious about injuries.”

The Ulsan Tigers, trailing the Motors by eight points, are chasing not only the K-League title, but also the Asian Football Confederation Champions League cup. Coach Kim Ho-gon said catching up with the Motors is the biggest priority for the moment.

“Until August, when there are no Asian Champions League games, we will have to catch up with Jeonbuk,” he said.

Ahead of the fierce competition during the three-week period, some of the teams have been replenishing power with new members.

Seongnam Chunma, running in 10th place and thus facing the risk of placing in the low league, sent away Heverton of Brazil, Sasa Ognenovski of Australia and Vladimir Jovancic of Serbia last month. The football club brought in Javier Reina of Colombia early this month.

By Han Yong-seop [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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