K League 2: It all comes down to the final day

Despite the delayed start to the K League 2 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the league has been exciting, energetic and hotly contested since matchday 1. Fast forward 119 games later and it is all to play for the four teams of Daejeon Hana Citizen, Seoul E-Land, Gyeongnam and Jeonnam Dragons to secure the final two play off spots, which would bring them that ever bit closer to joining Jeju United in being promoted to K League 1.

Matchday 27 Preview

The penultimate end of the K league 2 season is upon us and things are still far from over. With Jeju United already securing their promotion to K league 1 next year after an emphatic display from the tangerines, it all comes down to the final match day. Suwon FC, who finished second, have already qualified for the playoffs and will be waiting with baited breath to see who finishes in 3rd and 4th position.

Currently occupying 3rd and 4th is Seoul E-Land (38 points) and Jeonnam Dragons (37 points) respectively. However swiftly behind them and vying for those final two playoff spots are Gyeongnam FC (36 Points) and Daejeon Hana Citizen (36 points), with Daejeon having played a game less that the aforementioned teams.

Daejeon will find themselves playing FC Anyang on Tuesday 17th November, after having to reschedule this fixture due to a Daejeon Citizen player testing positive for Covid-19. If Daejeon win this game, they will find themselves in 3rd place with 39 points and one step closer to securing a playoff spot.

As if the pressure on these teams wasn’t enough already, all four teams play each other on decision day in what will be a fantastic and exciting affair for the neutral. Although I’m sure fans of these teams would disagree and will be watching on with hesitancy and nervousness as they watch their team try to take matters into their own hands. Thinking back on games earlier in the season where perhaps they let a lead slip or found themselves on the end of a shock result, wondering where did it go wrong and what if. Ultimately though, only two teams can go through and join Suwon FC in battling it out for that final promotion spot.

Seoul E-Land

Formed in 2014, Seoul E-Land where already expected to be battling it out for an Asian Champions League spot in K League 1 after securing financial backing from private conglomerate E-Land Group. Despite these arguably unrealistic expectations. Seoul E-Land have struggled in K League 2 in recent campaigns, finishing in 10th place (Last) for the previous two seasons.

Despite this disappointment, Seoul E-Land have come into the 2020 season with renewed vigour and determination to right the wrongs from previous years. Part of the success of Seoul E-Land’s improved performances have to be down to the acquisitions of Leandro Riberio (9 goals and 5 assists) Richard Sukuta-Pasa (7 goals and 1 assist) in front of goal. The likes of captain Kim Min-kyun, defenders Lee Sang-min and Kim Tae-hyeon (both on loan from Ulsan Hyundai) have been stalwart figures at the heart of the team, putting everything on the line to keep a clean sheet. But credit also has to be given to manager Chung Jung-Yong for getting the best out of these players. He isn’t afraid to change things tactically and experiment with the team. Previously manager of South Korea’s U-20 side, he has incorporated his belief in youth talent to the side, developing a team of players predominantly between the ages of 21-24.

Seoul E-Land are a team which likes a very quick tempo to their game, making short quick passes to each other in defence and midfield to bring the ball up the pitch. They also love to play on the break, using the speed and pace of players like Leandro to charge forward and counterattack.

So long as E-Land win on the final match day, they are guaranteed to make the playoffs regardless of the results of other fixtures around them. Only Daejeon Hana Citizen could spoil the party of Seoul finishing 3rd, if they pick two wins in their last two games. But overall, it has been a very successful season for Seoul E-Land. Should they qualify for playoffs, I think they are very likely to win their first playoff game, especially if they have home advantage. However, it would be a very tight match against Suwon FC to win promotion to K League 1. Form: LWDWW

Jeonnam Dragons

Jeonnam are a club that will be wanting to emulate the team and performances they had in the late 90’s/late 00’s. Once upon time playing in the Asian Cup Winners Cup and finishing runners up in 1999 after beating (what was then) J League giants Kashima Antlers 4–1. Since then however, Jeonnam have fairly inconsistent, with some seasons winning FA cups or finishing runners up in League Cups and other seasons finishing just above the relegation spots in K League 1. However in 2018, Jeonnam’s run in the top division had finally come to end, as they were relegated to K League 2.

Since then, the Dragons have been fighting to return back to K League 1. Bringing in a variety of players and employing Fabinho as manager in 2019, they had hope of making a quick jump back to where they belong. However they fell short, finishing in a mediocre 6th place. It was enough for club Chairman Park Se-yeon to dismiss manager Fabinho after only one season with the club. This campaign, Jeonnam have looked to rectify the mistakes and disappointment of last year with the appointment of Jeon Kyung-jun. A former midfielder with over 200+ appearances for K League sides such as Pohang Steelers, Bucheon and Jeonbuk Hyundai as well assistant manager roles with South Korea’s youth national sides. It was the experience and knowledge of Jeon that the Dragons wanted in their side.

And that they did recieve. During this 2020 season, Jeonnam have begun to look like the side they once were, playing quick-paced football with effective short passes up and down the pitch. They have been a relatively balanced side, scoring 30 and conceding 24. Although you could argue that the attacking edge of their game is not quite there yet, the dragons can certainly be happy with how they have defended this season as they rank 2nd in the league for the least amount of goals conceded. The arrival of Hernandes on loan from Brazilian side Gremio, has been a fortuitous one with the 21 year old scoring 3 and assisting 3 from the wings in 15 appearances. Although these numbers may not suggest anything to be too excited about, Hernandes has contributed a lot more to the Dragons than just goals or assists, playing an integral role in the teams attack and always looking like a dangerous threat in creating opportunities. It would be remiss of me, if I didn’t mention how improved players such as goalkeeper Park Jun-hyuk and young defenders Lee You-hyeon and Park Chan-yong have been this season. Working well together to create a solid defensive unit. However still contributing to the attack, which is evidenced by Park Chan-yong’s two goals this year.

Similarly and like all of the teams involved on this final matchday. It is of the utmost importance that Jeonnam secure all three points in their efforts to secure one of the final two playoff spots, particularly with their game being away against Seoul E-Land. The Dragons will need to rely on their backline to keep the likes of Seoul’s Leandro and Sukuta-Pasa at bay, whilst hoping that Hernandes can use his pace and technical ability to generate chances on goal, either for himself, Julian Kristoffersen or Jong Ho-lee. It’s hard to predict the outcome of this game against Seoul E-Land, the two previous games between these sides have resulted in a 0-0 draw and 2-1 win to Seoul back in September. A point would be only be good enough for the dragons if Gyeongnam lose their last game against Daejeon and if Daejeon do not collect more than 2 points in their final two games. With it being heavily reliant on how other fixtures go, Jeonnam realistically need to win against Seoul to lockdown a playoff spot. Form: DLWWD

Gyeongnam FC

Avengers assemble. Gyeongnam are a side which was founded 14 years ago in South Gyeongsang province, with the hopes and aspirations of developing a football team that could compete in the top division against close sides: Daegu, Busan, Ulsan and Pohang Steelers.

It hasn’t been easy for Gyeongnam since their formation, with arguably their better years being at the start of their existence. Particularly in recent seasons, where they have flirted with relegation to K League 2. Which they unfortunately fell victim to in 2014 and 2019.

Since then the reds have moved quickly to ensure that they do not stay in the second division for longer than necessary. In the off-season, Gyeongnam made several changes, with various comings and goings due to their relegation from K League 1 into K League 2, following their 2-0 aggregate relegation/playoff defeat at the hands of rivals Busan IPark.

One integral cog in the machine, is manager Seol Ki-hyeon, who’s previous experiences as a professional player for the likes of Anderlecht, Antwerp, Wolves, Reading and K League sides Pohang and Incheon, have allowed him to develop an understanding as to how to get the best of his team. This is evidence enough of Gyeongnam sitting in 5th with one game to Seol it all for their aspiring return to the top flight.

Seol has managed to revive this reds team, finding themselves as one of the most intense and exhilarating clubs in K League 2, with 39 goals scored this year so far. This attacking prowess is credit to players such as right winger Baek Sung-dong (9 goals, 2 assists), Ko Kyung-min (6 goals, 2 assists) and Hwang Il-su (5 goals, 3 assist). Which isn’t too shabby, considering the aforementioned three are all wingers! Park Ki-dong has also been an important figure in attack, scoring 4 and assisting 3. Despite this excellence in front of goal helping them reach this position in the league, some questions have been asked whether the side sacrifices its defensive duties. With Gyeongnam having the second worst goals against record, with only 10th placed Chungnam Asan concede more. Due to this, some Gyneognam fans may feel aggrieved and frustrated that this season couldn’t have been wrapped up sooner for the avengers team, had their defence looked so fragile at times.

Should Gyeongnam see the success and glory of promotion this season, I have no doubt that this an area that Seol will look to strengthen in the offseason. With more financial backing looking likely from their owners should they make the return to the top flight, the reds will be an interesting side to keep an eye on. It will all come down to the final game where Gyeongnam will have home advantage over other playoff competitors Daejeon Hana Citizen, with Daejeon having a game in hand. It’s a must win for Gyeongnam and they will need to hope that Seoul-E Land and Jeonnam get a point from one an other to stand a real chance of securing those final two spots. Form: LWLWL

Daejeon Hana Citizen

Expectations were incredibly high going into this 2020 season for Daejeon Hana Citizen, after securing financial backing from Hana Financial Group. The goal was simply this: Finish top and gain automatic promotion. However, it has not proved to be that simple.

The club was first founded in 1997 and finished in a respectable 7th place in K League 1. Despite Daejeon being a relatively small side with a limited budget, they did go on to have success in winning the 2001 Korean FA Cup. Since then however, the side have been relatively average, historically occupying the middle and lower reaches of the standings each season. Due to this lacklustre approach, it came as no shock at the end of the 2013 season, when Daejeon was relegated to the then named K League Challenge, the second-tier league. Despite a quick return back to K League 1 after one season in the second division, the side were swiftly knocked off their pedestal and once again found themselves relegated once more.

Since then, the former top flight side have looked like a mere reflection of themselves. Finishing bottom of K League 2 in 2017 and 9th in 2019, their only good campaign coming in 2018 where the side finished 4th. Meaning they qualified for a playoff promotion place, until Busan I-Park beat them 3-0 to squander their hopes of a return to the first division.

This season, Daejeon have looked largely improved. Bringing in players with high calibre, such as centre forward André Luis who has 13 goals and 3 assists in his inaugural season for the Hoseo side. Fellow striker Bruno Baio has also been an important piece for the side, scoring 4 and assisting 1. Manager Hwang Sun-hong has the heavy burden of being tasked with turning the club around, with Hana Finincial Group looking for Hwang to emulate his success that he with Pohang Steelers in 2013 as he led the coastal side to win the double.

However, the pressure was seemingly too much, with the club owners sacking Hwang in September with 9 games remaining of the regular season. The announcement came as a shock to most, as the purples had only just won 1-0 over Bucheon a few days earlier. Since then, assistant manager Kang Chul was tasked with stepping up to responsibilities by becoming caretaker manager until the end of the season. Daejeon have only managed two wins since this dismissal.

Unlike the the three teams above them, the citizen club have a game in hand, which they will be playing on 17th November against FC Anyang who are currently in 9th place out of 10. Having the home field advantage, Daejeon must absolutely secure three points if they want to keep the promotion playoff dreams alive. They then play away against fellow competition Gyeongnam FC on match day 27, where once again the pressure will be on the purples to win all three points. If they were to take all six points from this last two games, Daejeon would actually finish in 3rd place. There will be a lot of hope and expectation on André Luis to give his best performance yet. With Anyang and Gyeongnam both having defensive frailties, it is integral that Daejeon using their attacking prowess to expose these sides to obtain that promotion playoff spot. Form: WLLLW

My Prediction

제주월드컵경기장/ K리그2/ 제주유나이티드 vs 서울이랜드FC/ K리그2 우승/ 챔피언 세레머니/ 사진 윤경식

Four teams all vying for two final spots, in hope of getting that step closer towards K League 1. The last day of the season will be nothing short of excitement, nerves and disappointment. With everything to play for and some teams relying on other results elsewhere to help gain the advantage, it is a day of football that you cannot miss.

It is difficult with a league so tight, to make a prediction. However that is what I’m going to try to do.

Seoul E-Land for me have been one of the most consistent sides all season. They are well balanced in terms of scoring plenty of goals, playing attractive fast paced football and with a solid defensive unit at the back. Leandro, Sukuta-Pasu and Kim Min-kyun have shown so much strength and capability that I predict Seoul E-Land will finish 3rd on matchday 27. Securing a spot in the playoff rounds.

For that final spot, I feel that Daejeon Hana Citizen will have enough about them to secure enough points to finish 4th. It is imperative that they win against FC Anyang next week as that will leave the purples on 39 points, heading into the final game. A point against Gyeongnam would be enough, should Seoul either win or draw with Jeonnam. All eyes will be looking to André Luis to continue what has been a fantastic first season with the citizen club and hoping he can replicate the success he has had in front of goal all season.

Should the predictions above come to fruition, this will mean Seoul E-Land will face against Daejeon Hana Citizen in the semifinals of the playoff. The winner of this match, will then advance onto playing Suwon FC in the final step towards promotion.

Were Seoul and Daejeon to play each other, I would predict that Seoul E-Land have enough strength and depth behind them to win. They would then meet Suwon FC, where on paper, it will be a very close affair. But I feel like Suwon FC have the maturity of older players, experience and consistency to edge this fixture.

Therefore I feel that Suwon FC will join Jeju United in K League 1 for the 2021 season.

How does promotion/relegation work in K League?

For those who may be unfamiliar with how promotion and relegation work in the K League, then allow me to explain.

In K League 1 there are 12 teams. The K League champions, runners-up, and third-placed team gain entry to the AFC Champions League the following season. The 12th team is automatically relegated to K League 2, while the 11th team plays a match against the winner of the K League 2 promotion playoffs.

Whereas in K League 2 there are 10 teams. The winner of the league gains automatic promotion to K lEAGUE 1. 3rd and 4th place will play each other in a playoff match, the winner of this will then play against 2nd place. Whichever team wins this playoff game, will then go on to face whoever finished 11th place in K league 1. If the 11th place team from K League 1 wins, they are not relegated. If the K League 2 playoff team wins, they are promoted to K League 1.  

Confusing?………..Yes I know. Would you like me to confuse you even more? If the answer is yes, then carry on reading.

So what I explained above is how promotion and relegation works every season. However, this year there was an exception to this rule. The reason for this is due to military side Sangju Sangmu deciding to become a citizen owned club and move their franchise out of Sangju. Due to this decision and despite finishing 4th in K League 1 this year, they have been automatically relegated to K League 2. As of the 2021 season, they will become Gimcheon Sangmu and play in Gimcheon City.

Due to this, it means definitely that two K League 1 teams will be relegated and two K League 2 teams will be promoted. For this season it is Sangju Sangmu and Busan I-Park who have been relegated to K League 2. Whereas only Jeju United have secured their promotion to K League 1. We will know who is joining them on 29th November.

There is no relegation from K League 2. Due to the third division being a separate entity and system. This has changed however, as of the start of 2020 it was announced that the Korea National League (Division 3) and K League 3 (Division 4) would be rebranded into one league.

Despite this newly reformed K League 3, team will not be able to be promoted to K League 2, since the K League 2 is played under the different league system. However, teams in K League 3 will be able to get relegated to the K4 League.

There is currently conversations and work being done so that all Korean Leagues open up, with promotion and relegation being available to all teams of all leagues.

Published by Charlotte Patterson

25 | #SAFC and #OCSC | Football Enthusiast | Asian Football Writer for @footballCFB ⚽️

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