Busan beats Pohang to earn berth in top group

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Busan beats Pohang to earn berth in top group

Captain Park Yong-ho salvaged the Busan I’Park with his stoppage time winner over the league-leading Pohang Steelers on Sunday, shaking off a dogged challenge from two rival clubs to earn a spot in an elite seven-team group of the K-League Classic.

Busan upset the Steelers, 2-1, in the final round of the first half of the season, maintaining its goal difference lead over the Seongnam Chunma, who also beat Gyeongnam FC in the 26th round. Jeju United also toiled for nothing as it had to settle a point behind them despite a 2-1 victory over Daejeon Citizen.

Seongnam will enter its second straight latter-half season in the lower seven-team group, where it will have to fight to survive two-team relegation at the end of the season. It will be the first spot in Group B for Jeju, which finished sixth in Group A last season.

Pohang will start the second half as the leader of Group A, but its lead was reduced to one point after Ulsan Hyundai defeated Gangwon FC, 2-1, and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors blanked Incheon United, 2-0. Ulsan and Jeonbuk are both on 48 points, while FC Seoul also moved within three points of the Steelers with a 1-0 victory over Daegu FC.

The split campaign in the second half will kick off this weekend.

Busan entered the Sunday match tied at 37 points with Seongnam and its resolute to get nothing other than a win seemed to be paying off when Han Ji-ho put Busan ahead in the 43rd minute at the Pohang Steelyard. The Steelers, who already secured a first position in Group A, fought back and Kim Eun-jung managed to level the score with five minutes left to play.

Being aware of a 1-0 lead that Seongnam had over Gyeongnam at the same time in Changwon, Busan responded to its urgency with Park’s left-footer from a Lim Sang-hyub cross that found the back of the net three minutes into the stoppage time.

It was only the second goal of the season for the 32-year-old defender, who missed a similar goal chance in a 2-1 loss to Jeju on Aug. 28.

“The situation [in the Jeju match] kept replaying in my mind and I kept talking to myself that I would not blow it again,” Park said.

Seongnam boosted its hope to catch up with Busan when its fill-in striker Hwang Eui-jo netted against Gyeongnam only 30 seconds into the game, the earliest goal scored in the season. Winning the game by two goals would have put Seongnam ahead of Busan - Seongnam was only a goal behind of Busan but was leading on the number of goals scored. Hwang, who filled in for national team striker Kim Dong-sub, who was serving his cumulative foul penalty, failed to carry the momentum and so did the rest of the Seongnam players as they settled for a 1-0 win at Changwon Football Center.

Jeju not only had to win its home match against Daejeon but also pray for Busan and Seongnam to lose. The latter hope was unsuccessful, but the former was, thanks to Pedro, who scored a late-minute winner. Seo Dong-hyun scored first for Jeju in the 20th minute, but Arias hit back with a 33rd-minute equalizer for Daejeon.

The Suwon Samsung Bluewings were held to a scoreless draw by the Chunnam Dragons at home and finished the first half in fifth place. Incheon tied with Suwon on 41 points but is trailing on goal difference.

Daejeon will be a favorite to relegate as it enters Group B in last place on 14 points. Gangwon is only a point ahead.

BY MOON GWANG-LIP [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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