New K-League division kicking off
The eight-team K-League Challenge will open its first season in Gwangju tomorrow with a game between Gwangju FC and the Sangju Sangmu Phoenix, the two teams relegated from the first division K-League Classic.
Suwon FC will host Bucheon FC 1995 in another opening day game while Sunday will see Chungju Hummel FC face Korean Police FC and FC Anyang battle Goyang Hi FC. Each team will play 35 matches through Nov. 30 this season.
Modeled after European leagues, the second division was mapped out last year to enhance the competitiveness of Korean football, which suffered a massive match-fixing scandal in 2010 and 2011. The second division was initially given the name “K-League” but that was revised to “K-League Challenge” on Monday to avoid confusion with the league as a whole.
The league relegated the bottom-dwelling Sangju and Gwangju to the K-League Challenge at the end of last season and will further downsize the top division from 14 teams to 12. The 13th and 14th place K-League Classic clubs will automatically be demoted to the second division at the end of this season.
The eight Challenge teams the will vie for promotion to the Classic. The winner of the Challenge will be promoted for the 2014 season if it wins a playoff against the third worst team of the Classic at the end of the year. The playoffs, a home and an away competition, will be held on Dec. 4 and Dec. 7.
The second division has several star players who joined the military-affiliated Sangmu Phoenix or the Korean Police FC to serve their compulsory military service. One bright light at Sangmu is Lee Keun-ho, who was named the 2012 Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year after leading the Ulsan Hyundai to the AFC Champions League title.
FC Seoul striker Jung Jo-gook and his national teammate Oh Beom-seok have also joined the Korean Police FC, which is led by former Suwon Bluewings winger Yeom Ki-hun.
Some of the six newly created teams in the Challenge already boast a huge fan base, including FC Anyang, which is the first professional football club to be based in Anyang since the LG Anyang Cheetahs deserted the city in 2004, moving to the capital and becoming FC Seoul.
FC Anyang fans are eager to see FC Anyang to win the inaugurating Challenge season, get promoted to the Classic, and seek revenge on FC Seoul.
Meanwhile, K-League Classic defending champion FC Seoul will seek its first victory of the season against Busan I’Park in an away match on Sunday.
The Jeonbuk Motors will visit Gyeongnam FC on Saturday, where it hopes to further extend its early lead in the top division.
Current co-leader Suwon Bluewings will also seek its third straight victory against the Pohang Steelers on home turf on Sunday. Last year’s Asian winner, the Ulsan Hyundai, will aim for a second victory of the season when it visits the Chunnam Dragons on Sunday.
The K-League Classic will have 38 games per team for a total of 266 matches between March 2 and Dec. 1.
By Moon Gwang-lip [email@example.com]