Heat is on for K-League striker title

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Heat is on for K-League striker title

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As the K-League Classic season enters its second half, competition for the title of top scorer is heating up, especially after an announcement Sunday that the season’s top striker so far, Tiago Alves Sales, is leaving the Korean football league.

The K-League Classic season is composed of 33 rounds and stretches all the way to the first week of October. With the season now in its 23rd round, the leading contenders for top scorer are emerging.

Among the few standouts are Jung Jo-gook of Gwangju FC, Yang Dong-hyen of the Pohang Steelers, and Carlos Adriano and Dejan Damjanovic of FC Seoul.

One of the most drastic changes between the first and second half of the season is the departure of Sales from Seongnam FC. The Brazilian forward led the league in goals with 13 scored in 19 matches, nearly half of the 34 goals that Seongnam netted as a team.

But then on Sunday, Seongnam announced that Sales had signed with Al Wahda FC of the United Arab Emirates. Seongnam received a $3 million transfer fee for the Brazilian forward.

With Sales out of the league, the dynamics of the competition have changed. Jung of Gwangju is now the favorite for the title.

Jung currently has 14 goals this season, putting him at the top of the league in scoring. He has already broken his personal season best of 13 goals, when he played for FC Seoul in 2010, but the title of top scorer has always eluded him.

Jung’s quest to win his first career title will not be easy. He has a formidable rival in FC Seoul’s Adriano, who was considered the favorite to win top scorer before the season started but is now just behind Jung.

Adriano has 11 goals under his belt this season and has led in goal scoring in every competition that FC Seoul has participated in, including the FA Cup, K-League Classic and Asian Champions League.

The Brazilian striker has a history of being a power kicker, having won the title in the K-League Challenge, the second-tier league in Korean professional football, when he played for the Daejeon Citizen in 2014. That year, he netted 27 goals total.

At the moment, Adriano is on break from the league, serving a six-game suspension for his violent conduct during a June 29 match against Seongnam FC. While Adriano was out, Jung and Sales shot ahead in scoring.

But Adriano’s suspension ends in July, and his first game back will once again be a match against Seongnam FC on Aug. 3. The power striker’s return will no doubt change the dynamics of the competition once more.

Not far behind Adriano is Yang of the Pohang Steelers. The Korean striker has scored 10 goals so far this season, marking the first time in three years that he has reached 10 in a single season. In 2013, he netted 14 goals, his personal best.

FC Seoul’s Damjanovic, who returned to the club this season after a brief two-year stint in the Chinese Super League, is another powerful contender for this season’s top striker title.

Damjanovic is no stranger to the K-League. When he played for FC Seoul from 2008 to 2013, not only was he the first to be crowned top scorer for three consecutive seasons, he also broke the record for most goals scored in a single season, when he netted 31 for the team in 2013.

The Montenegrin forward reached the 100-goal mark faster than anyone in league history, within just 174 games.

Since returning from China this season, though, Damjanovic has struggled to live up to his past records, only managing to score seven goals in the K-League.

But the striker is also known to be a slow starter and may put out a better second-half performance. So far in his K-League career, Damjanovic has netted a total of 148 goals in 252 games, and he hopes to achieve the 150-goal mark at record speed.

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