Jeonbuk and Seoul earmarked for top as season approaches

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Jeonbuk and Seoul earmarked for top as season approaches

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K-League Classic team managers pose during a press conference on Monday. During the meeting, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and FC Seoul were selected as front runners for the title in the upcoming season. [JOONGANG ILBO]

With the opening of the K-League Classic season fast approaching, fans are wondering who will float to the top of the league. Among K-League Classic teams, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and FC Seoul steal the most attention.

The K-League classic will begin its nine-month journey on Mar. 12 with the opening match between Jeonbuk and Seoul. Twelve teams will play 33 regular season games after which the teams will be split into two groups depending on their ranking.

In the post season Split Round, the top six teams from the regular season will compete for the championship titles while the bottom six teams will play to decide the teams to be demoted to the K-League Challenge, a second tier league in Korea. No. 11 and 12 teams will be relegated to the second tier league.

Prior to the opening of the season, the K-League held a press conference on Monday where managers and players from 12 K-League classics met to discuss the new season. When asked whether they think Jeonbuk and Seoul will be the top tier in the upcoming season in the K-League Classic, 10 out of the 12 managers agreed. The managers Choi Kang-hee of Jeonbuk and Choi Yong-soo of Seoul disagreed.

Experts picked Jeonbuk and Seoul to be the most probable candidates to win the championship title.

As well as indisputable star striker Lee Dong-gook, the anchor behind Jeonbuk’s success, defending champion Jeonbuk has bolstered its starting lineup with big names from the South Korean national team roster including Kim Shin-wook from Ulsan Hyundai FC and Kim Bo-kyung and Kim Chang-soo from the Matsumoto Yamaga and Kashiwa Reysol of the J-League.

Fans call the team “Real Jeonbuk,” alluding to Spain’s Real Madrid. For Seoul, Dejan Damjanovic, the former K-League top scorer in 2011, has rejoined the team to strengthen their offensive line to form a trio along with Carlos Adriano and Park Chu-young. With the trio on the front line, Seoul has scored 10 goals in the Asian Champions League (ACL) to clinch two consecutive wins. Seoul is currently top of the group standing in the ACL.

Kim Hak-bum, the manager of Seongnam FC, said that “Jeonbuk and Seoul have created stable rosters. Data speaks for itself. They are undoubtedly the top teams in the league.” Suwon Samsung Bluewings manager Seo Jung-won said, “I agree that they are the powerhouses in the league, but football is an unpredictable game. Things
may change dramatically well into the season.”

Seoul manager Choi Yong-soo, said, “Jeonbuk claimed two consecutive titles, sure. But I think we often overestimate a team’s capacity and get intimidated even before the season begins. I think the teams in the K-League Classic can bring Jeonbuk down from its throne.”

When Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee tried to bypass the argument by responding that Seoul is the lone top tier team this season, Seoul’s manager said, “I never considered Seoul as a top tier team. Jeonbuk, Suwon and Pohang Steelers are the top teams this season. I don’t think we are included in the pack.”

The rivalry between Jeonbuk and Seoul was evident during the press conference when the two teams picked each other as the team they would like to keep below them in the league standing.

BY SONG JI-HOON, PARK LIN [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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