Elite eight vie for spots in FA Cup semis

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Elite eight vie for spots in FA Cup semis

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From far left, FC Seoul, led by Hwang Sun-hong; Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, helmed by Choi Kang-hee; and Seo Jung-won’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings will each play in their respective home fields tonight in the quarterfinals of the KEB Hana Bank FA Cup. Seoul, Jeonbuk and Suwon are considered top candidates to win the annual tournament this year. [KOREA FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION]

The quarterfinals of the 2016 KEB Hana Bank FA Cup will take place today in four different venues across the country. Fierce competition is expected amongst the eight elite clubs from the K-League Classic, the football league’s top division, and the K-League Challenge, the second-tier division, as they vie for spots in the next round.

The FA Cup is an annual tournament in which any football teams in Korea, whether pro, semi-pro, amateur or university, can participate in the competition.

This year’s quarterfinals include seven K-League Classic teams - FC Seoul, Jeonnam Dragons, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Seongnam FC, Ulsan Hyundai FC and Incheon United FC - and one K-League Challenge team - Bucheon FC 1995. Only four will move on to the semifinals.

FC Seoul, last year’s title holder, is going into today’s game without fully adjusting to a managerial transition. After Choi Yong-soo left Seoul last month to join Jiangsu Suning FC in China, Hwang Sun-hong came on board to take the helm. But the team has yet to claim a win in the last three K-League Classic games.

Hwang hopes today will be the day, when they face the Jeonnam Dragons at home in Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Hwang feels at home in the FA Cup, having led the Pohang Steelers, his former club, two years straight in 2012 and 2013 to take the tournament title. Today’s match will be a test for the manager to see if he can replicate that kind of success with FC Seoul.

And it’s more than necessary if Hwang hopes to keep alive Seoul’s chances of winning a triple crown - the K-League Classic, FA Cup and Asian Champions League.

In another match, K-League Classic leader Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors is taking on the only team in the FA Cup this year that is not from the top pro league. The team will face Bucheon FC 1995 at home in Jeonju World Cup Stadium.

Jeonbuk, the only undefeated team in pro football this year, also needs a win tonight to extend its chance for the triple crown. Jeonbuk has won the FA Cup trophy on three occasions in the past, ranking it second overall in terms of number of cup titles. By adding one more to its shelf, Jeonbuk hopes to match the Pohang Steelers, with four titles from the annual tournament.

Of course, Bucheon will not kneel easily. Considered the tournament’s underdog, Bucheon is out to show that a second-tier team can still compete against top-tier teams and emerge with a win. The team has already defeated a K-League Classic elite when they edged Pohang 2-0 in the earlier stage of this year’s FA Cup.

While there is a lot at stake for Seoul and Jeonbuk, the rivalry between the Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Seongnam FC is also a spectacle of the tournament.

The two teams are expected to meet twice this week, including today for an FA Cup quarterfinals match and on Sunday in the 20th round of the K-League Classic. Whichever team wins today’s match will go into the Sunday game with much-needed momentum, not to mention a spot in the FA Cup semifinals.

Ulsan Hyundai FC, which has historically been deemed a powerhouse in the K-League but has yet to win an FA Cup trophy, is gunning for its first title this year. The furthest Ulsan has ever gone in the annual tournament was in 1998, when it finished runner-up.

Incheon FC, too, has never won the FA Cup title. They came close last year, but their hopes were dashed when FC Seoul edged Incheon in the final match. The team is determined to make the finals again this year and actually notch a win.

Ulsan will meet Incheon at home in Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium.

BY CHOI YONG-JAE [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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