Jeonbuk takes K-League title
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors became the K-League champion this season after they beat Jeju United 3-0 at Jeju World Cup Stadium on Saturday.
Leonardo Rodriguez Pereira netted the opener in the 27th minute and Lee Seung-gi and Lee Sang-hyup added two more goals in the second half, effectively filling in for striker Lee Dong-gook, who was sidelined due to a right calf injury.
The victory gave the Jeonju-based club three points to bring their total to 74, increasing their distance from runner-up Suwon Samsung Bluewings, with 61, and securing the crown regardless of the results of the remaining three matches. The Bluewings lost to Seoul FC on Sunday while third-ranked Pohang Steelers added a point by drawing Ulsan Hyundai on Sunday.
With many new players, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors got off to a rocky start to the season, but Manager Choi Kang-hee and the veteran players successfully brought the team together to win their third title.
Jeonbuk was the only team that rounded out its squad with new players. The others hesitated due to major funding cuts by club owners just before the season. Experienced defensive midfielder Kim Nam-il and midfielder Han Kyo-won of Incheon United joined Jeonbuk, and Choi Bo-kyung came to the team from Ulsan Hyundai. Another defensive midfielder, Shin Hyung-min, moved to Jeonbuk from UAE’s Al Jazira FC during the summer.
Before the season started, Manager Choi wanted to prepare the team for sudden variables in case some players were sidelined from injuries or accumulated warnings as they readied to embark on its nearly nine-month journey.
Having a number of new players was a major risk since they were not familiar with each other’s styles of play, but Jeonbuk quickly pulled together to rise to the top of the rankings.
Jeonbuk became the league leader in August, after the players took a break following the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil. They haven’t slipped from the top spot since then.
“The squad might just look flashy, but it is completely based on their abilities,” Choi said. “Also, we followed the principles of having two players for each position.”
The season isn’t over, but Jeonbuk is already preparing for the next one, hoping to defend its title and win the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in January.
“Our goal is to make the team play better and become more attractive to the fans as well,” said an official of the club.
“Next season will be a stepping stone for Jeonbuk to become a team that represents the entire K-League.”
As Jeonbuk enjoys the remaining three matches free of pressure, FC Seoul and Jeju United will compete for the last spot in the top three, which would put them through to join the AFC Champions League.
The Pohang Steelers, who have earned 57 points this season, are trying to hang on to third place, but must first face Jeonbuk Hyundai, second-ranked Bluewings and fourth-ranked FC Seoul.
FC Seoul has 53 points, and its next matches will be against Pohang, fifth-ranked Jeju United and sixth-ranked Ulsan Hyundai.
BY SONG JI-HOON, KIM BONG-MOON [email@example.com]