K League reaches split with some last-minute surprisesThe 12 clubs in the top Korean football league were split into two groups on Sunday, with some late drama seeing clubs in the middle of the table switch places.
Gwangju FC beat Seongnam FC 2-0 to jump from eighth to sixth, grabbing the last spot for "Final A" in the K League 1's split format. Gangwon FC's 2-1 loss to Suwon Samsung Bluewings opened the door for Gwangju to sneak through.
With the top six clubs in Final A, the rest ended up in Final B. Teams will then close out the season by playing five matches within their own group.
Clubs in Final A are guaranteed to finish no lower than sixth in the final table. This is Gwangju's first season in the K League 1 after earning a promotion from the K League 2, and they've assured themselves of another season with the big boys.
Those in Final B, on the other hand, all face the danger of relegation to the K League 2, with the last-place Incheon United and seventh-place FC Seoul separated by only seven points.
The top five spots had already been sealed before Sunday, with Ulsan Hyundai FC, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Sangju Sangmu, Pohang Steelers and Daegu FC occupying those places.
Much of the suspense on this day, when all six matches kicked off at 3 p.m., came from contests involving teams in the middle.
Gangwon FC entered Sunday's match against Suwon in sixth place with 24 points and they controlled their own destiny. All they needed to do was to beat a slumping club that had won just once in their past eight matches and the sixth spot would be Gangwon's.
Kim Ji-hyun gave Gangwon a lead in the 53rd at Gangneung Stadium in Gangneung, Gangwon. But Suwon rallied with two late goals for a 2-1 win, as Han Suk-jong's header off an 82nd minute free kick proved to be the difference.
Gwangju did their part by beating Seongnam on the road, with Felipe and Doo Hyeon-seok scoring a goal apiece.
FC Seoul, who were also in the hunt for sixth place, settled for seventh after a scoreless draw against Daegu FC.
With a combination of Gangwon's loss, Gwangju's victory and FC Seoul's draw, Gangwon fell all the way to eighth.
Seongnam, Busan, Suwon and Incheon rounded out the bottom four.
By upsetting Gangwon, Suwon gave themselves some breathing room over Incheon for the relegation spot at 21 points. Incheon remained stuck at 18.
Elsewhere, Ulsan blanked Incheon 1-0 to remain in first place. Ulsan had lost to Jeonbuk 2-1 Tuesday to have their lead over Jeonbuk cut to just two points, but Junior Negrão delivered his league-leading 24th goal of the season to help Ulsan fend off pesky Incheon.
Jeonbuk kept pace with Ulsan thanks to a 2-0 victory over Busan IPark.
In perhaps the least consequential but most entertaining match of Sunday, Pohang defeated Sangju 4-3 behind Aleksandar Palocevic's hat trick to move into third place over the military club. Pohang and Sangju both have 38 points, but Pohang have the substantial edge in the goals scored tiebreaker, 41-29.
Pohang led 2-0 at halftime with Palocevic scoring both goals, but Sangju leveled the score with two goals in one minute near the hour mark. Pohang broke the tie in the 77th, only to have Sangju respond in the 88th.
Then Palocevic capped off the barrage for Pohang with his third goal of the match moments before the final whistle.
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