Victory will add up to Jeonbuk’s 4th league titleThe K-League Classic is three matches away from its finale, but it looks like Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are set to confirm their title defense against Jeju United on Sunday.
Under the league’s split system, Jeonbuk currently tops the upper group table with 69 points, seven points above No. 2 ranked Pohang Steelers.
With only three matches remaining, Jeonbuk have a clear advantage to capture the title. The defending champions can clinch the title by collecting just three points in the remaining three matches, meaning that one single victory is enough to do the job.
Mathematically, Pohang, who have won their last six matches, have a shot for the title, but a single defeat in the upcoming three matches will ruin their chances. They also need Jeonbuk to lose in order to collect three points in their next three games.
Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee knows that the team is on the verge of being the champions again.
“I hope Pohang slips on their own,” Choi said. “Then we can win the title without collecting points.”
Throughout the season, Jeonbuk never suffered three consecutive losses, but it has struggled to get good results. In their last three matches, Jeonbuk lost 3-2 to Jeju United followed by a 1-0 defeat to Pohang and a 0-0 stalemate with FC Seoul.
Choi says the reason for the recent slump is players’ fatigue and the stress of defending the top spot from the start of the season.
“Since we have been No. 1 in the league standings since April, every match put pressure on us,” he said. “[Without managing players’ stamina], we were in hurry to collect points from the beginning, and now we are having some difficult matches.”
For Choi, confirming the title with a loss by Pohang would be the easy way to hold the title, but not the preferred way. The 56-year-old said that regardless of Pohang’s performance, they want to earn the title by beating Jeju on Sunday.
Coincidentally, Jeonbuk last year also confirmed the title in Jeju.
Choi is careful to point out that Jeju is not the same team as last year. This year, Jeonbuk has two wins and one loss against Jeju.
“Jeju reinforced its squad well, and its game got better in the second half [of the season,]” Choi said. “We need to prepare well.”
A victory at Jeju will make Jeonbuk only the fourth club in K-League history to win the league title two years in a row. It will be their fourth title.
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (now Seongnam FC) in 1993 to 1995 and then 2001 to 2003. Suwon Samsung Bluewings won the title in 1998 and 1999. In addition, a victory at Jeju will make Choi the top coach in K-League history with most league titles. Serving from 2005, Choi delivered the championship title to Jeonbuk in 2009, 2011 and 2014.
He is currently tied for most championship trophies with former Seongnam coaches Park Jong-hwan and the late Cha Kyung-bok.
Players said that they want to deliver the title to their coach.
“Players are happy that we are [hopefully] writing history in the K-League with our coach,” said captain and forward Lee Dong-gook. “We will prepare thoroughly and present the coach with a clear victory.”
BY JOO KYUNG-DON [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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