Jeonbuk win fifth consecutive K League title
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors clinched the ultimate trophy of the season after taking a win against Jeju United on Sunday, becoming the first team ever in Korea's two most popular leagues — the K League and KBO — to win a title for five consecutive years.
Jeonbuk have the most wins in the K League 1, now having won nine titles in the last 13 seasons — including this year and last year.
Alongside Jeonbuk's 2-0 victory, the two other final week matches also ended 2-0 — Ulsan Hyundai took a 2-0 win against Jeju United and Suwon FC won 2-0 against the Suwon Samsung Bluewings.
The final week of the last two seasons looked a lot like this year. Last year, Jeonbuk topped the table with 57 points, and runner-up Ulsan had 54 points. Ulsan beat Gwangju 3-0, but Jeonbuk also took a 2-0 win against Daegu to clinch the trophy for the fourth consecutive time. This time, Jeonbuk headed into the final week, topping the table with 73 points while Ulsan trailed with 71 points; and, like last year, both clubs won their final matches with Jeonbuk clinching the trophy once again.
Jeonbuk are undoubtedly a strong club. In addition to their nine titles, they also had two runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2016. The club won the FA Cup four times, including last year, and also won the AFC Champions League title twice, in 2009 and 2016.
Jeonbuk did have a turbulent season this year, however. After starting out the season on top, Jeonbuk's 13-game undefeated streak ended on May 10 with a 3-1 loss against the Bluewings. Then the North Jeolla club continued going downhill as it went on a winless streak of seven games that saw them drop down to fourth place.
"This season had its ups and downs," Jeonbuk head coach Kim Sang-sik said after Sunday's victory.
"Nothing was easy, but I think April and May were the hardest especially when we couldn't find a win for seven games."
Jeonbuk managed to climb up to second in June and continued to slowly add on points. After Jeonbuk topped the standings with a victory against Ulsan on Nov. 6, the team slipped back down into second place, losing to Suwon FC in their third-to-last match of the season on Nov. 21 and conceded the top seat to their biggest contender as Ulsan won against Jeju United on the same day. Jeonbuk only reclaimed their lead in the standings with two weeks of K League action left, with a win over Daegu on Nov. 28.
Despite being a higher-ranked club, Jeonbuk had a difficult match against Jeju Sunday. All three of their previous games against Jeju had ended in draws: The first two games ended in 1-1 draws and the last time the two clubs faced each, other on Oct. 23, the match had ended 2-2.
Jeonbuk headed into their last match with a two-point lead over Ulsan on Sunday, knowing they would win their fifth K League season title regardless of Ulsan's results if they win against Jeju.
And win, they did. Han Kyo-won slotted in Jeonbuk's first goal in the 54th minute, and 19 minutes later, Song Min-kyu scored a screamer from mid-range that met the back of the net.
"Throughout the season, we received positive but also lots of negative feedback from our fans. But in the end, it feels great to be able to achieve an unprecedented record of a fifth consecutive title at home," said head coach Kim.
"Every match was important," Kim said when asked which match was the most significant throughout the season.
"But winning the big showdown against Ulsan [on Nov. 6] was an important achievement."
Jeju finishes the season in fourth place, narrowly missing out on the top three and a chance to earn a ticket to next year's AFC Champions League. The second and third clubs in the K League compete to earn a spot at the Champions League.
Daegu finished in third, after a 2-0 loss against Ulsan. Both of Ulsan's goals came in the first half of the match. In the 18th minute, Seol Young-woo connected Won Du-jae's cross in to the net. Just minutes later, it seemed that Ulsan was running away with a second goal 20 minutes into the match. Oh Se-hun headed the ball into the net, and though the Daegu goal keeper blocked the ball, it seemed the ball had already passed the goal line before meeting the goalie. But a VAR review revealed that even before the ball reached the net, the goal was actually offside.
Ulsan were undeterred, and in the 47th minute, Seol and Oh did it once again. Seol crossed the ball over to Oh who headed in Ulsan's second goal. Neither side was able to add goals for the remainder of the match, and Ulsan finished the season runner-up and Daegu in third.
Simultaneously at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi, Suwon finished the season in fifth place after winning their final game of the season against the Bluewings 2-0. Lee Young-jae scored in the 40th minute, and nine minutes into the second half, Jeong Jae-yong slotted in Suwon's second goal.
The 2021 season finished with Jeonbuk on top, Ulsan second, Daegu third, Jeju fourth, Suwon FC fifth and Bluewings sixth.
In the latter half of the K League 1, Gwangju FC was fixed at the bottom on Nov. 27 and will be relegated to the second division next season, while Gangwon FC will have to face Daejeon Hana Citizens in a promotion-relegation playoff. Daejeon will face Gangwon first at home on Wednesday, then Gangwon will face Daejeon at home on Dec. 12.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]