Ilhwa, Dragons advance

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Ilhwa, Dragons advance

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Seongnam Ilhwa players celebrate upon winning their first-round K-League Championship match against Incheon United 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out at Seongnam Sports Complex in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, yesterday. [YONHAP]

The opening round of the K-League Championship kicked off over the weekend, with the Seongnam Ilhwa and Chunnam Dragons surviving the first round.

The two teams will now play each other in a pivotal match that carries relatively high stakes: a shot at playing the Pohang Steelers - who won the AFC Champions League - in the semifinals on Nov. 29 and a spot in next year’s AFC Champions League tourney.

The two sides are set to face off in the second round of the K-League tourney on Wednesday.

The teams faced each other twice in regular season play. Seongnam won the first match 3-1 on May 23, while Chunnam managed a 2-0 win on Sept. 26.

Seongnam will be the favored team in this week’s matchup, as the club finished the regular season with the fourth-best record in the league with 13 wins, six ties and nine losses. However, the team has big holes to fill on defense as two of its regulars, Sasa Ognenovski and Cho Byung-kuk, were ejected from yesterday’s game.

The first-round matchup between Seongnam and Incheon United at Seongnam Sports Complex in Seongnam, Gyeonggi was short on goals but provided fans with plenty of drama. Seongnam was forced to play with a man down after central defender Ognenovski was red-carded toward the end of the first half on a questionable call from the referee. Manager Shin Tae-yong was also tossed from the game in the ensuing minutes after vehemently arguing the call.

Incheon United, however, failed to take control of the game despite being up one man.

Seongnam’s Dzenan Radoncic broke the stalemate 10 minutes into overtime with a clean header into the left bottom corner of the net from the center of the penalty box area. The momentum had shifted to Seongnam, but Cho was ejected after receiving his second warning of the match merely two minutes into the second half of extra time for stalling the game on a free kick. Incheon United’s Kim Min-soo responded by netting an equalizer in the 22nd minute of extra time.

The game was decided in a penalty shoot-out, with Seongnam winning 3-2.

The Chunnam Dragons, which managed to qualify for the playoffs with a record of 11 wins, nine ties and eight losses, are the lowest-ranked club in the playoffs. But the sixth-ranked team managed to surprise third-ranked FC Seoul at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Saturday. FC Seoul - which had competed for the top spot in the league standings until the late stages of the regular season - entered the postseason with an impressive record of 16 wins, five ties and seven losses. The two sides ended the match in a 1-1 tie. FC Seoul’s Lee Sang-hyup and Lee Jong-min missed the net, and Ki Sung-yeung’s shot was blocked by Chunnam’s Yeom Dong-gyun as the Dragons pulled out an upset win in a penalty shoot-out, 3-2.

“Our players were full of confidence and were looking to win the match,” Chunnam manager Park Hang-seo said in a post-game interview.

“It doesn’t matter who reaches the second round, we are confident about our chances. Our biggest concern now is for our players to recover in time for the second round on Wednesday.”


By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]

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