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(LEAD) FC Seoul pull off dramatic finish in S. Korean football league

All Headlines 18:35 November 06, 2016

(ATTN: CHANGES 1st photo; ADDS comments throughout, photo)
By Joo Kyung-don

JEONJU, South Korea, Nov. 6 (Yonhap) -- They might have lost early, but they smiled in the end.

FC Seoul pulled off a dramatic finale to win the K League Classic football title on Sunday after beating Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-0.

Both Seoul and Jeonbuk entered the final day showdown tied at 67 points. But since Jeonbuk had the tiebreaking edge in goals scored, Seoul had to win to grab their first league title since 2012. Jeonbuk only needed a draw.

And thanks to the winning goal from Park Chu-young, Seoul bagged their sixth K League championship at Jeonju World Cup Stadium, some 240 kilometers south of the capital. Seoul wrapped up the season with 21 wins, seven draws and 10 losses.

"It was a difficult match, but our players kept their cool on the pitch," Seoul head coach Hwang Sun-hong said. "We knew we had to be strong in midfield, and we fought against Jeonbuk well."

The victory provided a measure of sweet revenge for Seoul. Before this match, Seoul had not beaten Jeonbuk in three encounters this season, including their 1-0 loss in the season opener.

But Seoul got their first victory against Jeonbuk just when they needed it the most.

"Veteran players like Osmar (Barba), Kwak Tae-hwi and Park Chu-young did their jobs well and they played a big role in today's match," Hwang said.

FC Seoul players and coaches celebrate with the K League Classic trophy during the title ceremony at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, after beating Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-0 in their final match. (Yonhap)

Seoul looked on course for their sixth K League championship when the new season started. They enjoyed six straight wins from March to April with Brazilian striker Carlos Adriano showing off his firepower. The 30-year-old Brazilian scored seven goals in his first 10 matches.

Seoul, however, failed to keep up their early momentum. When they reached the halfway point of the season, they were eight points behind Jeonbuk.

Seoul's championship chase also lost steam when their beloved head coach Choi Yong-soo left for Chinese side Jiangsu Suning in June. Hwang, who led the Pohang Steelers to the K League championship in 2013, arrived as Choi's successor, but he couldn't bring the club out of the slump right away.

They were winless in five matches -- two draws and three losses -- after Choi announced his departure on June 21.

Making things worse, they had to play without Adriano in July after he received a six-match suspension by the league's discipline committee for a vicious foul on Seongnam FC defender Lim Chae-min.

"There were some tough moments in the process of building this team," Hwang said. "Our players have great talent, but it took some time to make ourselves competitive."

FC Seoul head coach Hwang Sun-hong (3rd from L) celebrates with the coaching staff and players after winning the 2016 K League Classic title over Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, on Nov. 6, 2016. (Yonhap)

Seoul started to regroup and managed to regain their early form under Hwang. And they had a little bit of luck.

On Sept. 30, Jeonbuk were given a nine-point deduction by the league discipline committee after one of their scouts was convicted for bribing referees in 2013. This penalty helped Seoul to finally level with Jeonbuk on points early last month, but Hwang's side failed to take further advantage.

While struggling to get ahead of Jeonbuk in points earned, Seoul were also losing ground in the tiebreaker, putting them into a more difficult situation ahead of their final meeting.

This season, the K League used goals scored as the first tiebreaker -- instead of goal difference -- when teams were equal on points. Before their duel on Sunday, Jeonbuk scored nine goals in two matches, while Seoul only bagged four goals in two contests.

Seoul, however, wrote their final day drama and reclaimed the league's No. 1 position that they relinquished in May.

Hwang admitted that they were helped by Jeonbuk's penalty.

"There's a reason why I can't feel happy about our championship," he said. "We will try to capture the league title in a perfect way next season."

The victory also meant Seoul got revenge for their elimination in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League at the hands of Jeonbuk.

Seoul beat Jeonbuk 2-1 at the AFC Champions League semifinal second leg last month, but still lost by 5-3 on aggregate after losing the opener 4-1.

Seoul can wrap up the season with another trophy. They are currently in the Korean Football Association (FA) Cup final against Suwon Samsung Bluewings.

The two teams will first clash on Nov. 27 at Suwon World Cup Stadium, and their second leg will be played at Seoul World Cup Stadium six days later.

"If you have reached the final, you have to win," Hwang said. "There's no need for a runner-up finish."

Seoul are the defending FA Cup champions. They collected a win and two draws against Suwon this season in the K League Classic.


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