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(LEAD) K League 1 season resumes as contenders clash for 2nd time

All News 16:10 June 16, 2022

(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 7-12, 16-17)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, June 16 (Yonhap) -- After more than two weeks off during the FIFA international match window, the top South Korean football league will be back in action on the weekend, with two title contenders set for their second showdown of the season.

Ulsan Hyundai FC entered the break atop the K League 1 tables with 36 points, 10 ahead of Jeju United. Ulsan are undefeated in their past five matches.

One point behind Jeju in third place are Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the team that crushed Ulsan's title dreams in each of the past three seasons. And Ulsan and Jeonbuk will meet for the second time this season at 6 p.m. Sunday at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

In this May 28, 2022, file photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League, Jun Amano of Ulsan Hyundai FC (R) celebrates with teammate Lee Chung-yong after scoring a goal against Suwon FC during the clubs' K League 1 match at Suwon Stadium in Suwon, 35 kilometers south of Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Ulsan prevailed 1-0 in the first meeting on March 6, but that was only Ulsan's second victory over Jeonbuk in the previous 10 matches.

Ulsan have been firing on all cylinders. They lead the K League 1 with 25 goals after 15 matches, and they have also conceded the fewest goals with 10.

Jeonbuk, who have long prided themselves on being a dangerous offensive team, have only managed 15 goals in 15 contests this year.

Jeonbuk sent seven players to the national team, while Ulsan had five representatives. Many of those dozen players will likely find themselves in staring lineups for their respective teams come Sunday.

Ulsan midfielder Um Won-sang, who appeared in three of South Korea's four matches earlier this month, said at a press conference Thursday that he believes this will be Ulsan's year.

"I joined Ulsan (before the start of this season) trying to win a championship, and we've been playing great so far thanks to our coaching staff and veterans," Um said at an online session organized by the K League for players returning from international duty. "I just have to hold up my end of the bargain. I believe we can win the title this year."

As for going up against Jeonbuk players who had been his national team teammates just days earlier, Um said: "I'd rather not discuss individual players. This will be a match between our two teams. We'll try to execute whatever our coach wants us to do."

Jeonbuk midfielder Kim Jin-gyu, who played twice for South Korea, said he wants to help revive Jeonbuk's stagnant offense. He came over from Busan IPark on March 17, 11 days after Jeonbuk's loss to Ulsan.

"Since I joined Jeonbuk, I've been waiting for this match," Kim said. "I haven't been with Jeonbuk for that long, but I do know this team always plays well in important matches. If we can start putting a few more balls into the net, we will move up in the tables."

In this May 28, 2022, file photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League, Gerso Fernandes of Jeju United (L) and Kim Moon-hwan of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors battle for the ball during the clubs' K League 1 match at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 200 kilometers south of of Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The one other match on Sunday will pit Suwon Samsung Bluewings against FC Seoul at Suwon World Cup Stadium in the latest "Super Derby" between the longtime rivals.

The two clubs each have 18 points, but FC Seoul are ahead in the tables in seventh place thanks to their 17 goals, compared to 12 by Suwon.

Their rivalry has lost some luster in recent seasons amid their struggles. FC Seoul won the first derby of the season 2-0 on April 10.

Na Sang-ho, a national team midfielder for FC Seoul, scored a late goal in that April victory. He boldly predicted Thursday that he will score against Suwon once again and lead his club to another 2-0 victory.

"We want to fly our team's red and black flag in their stadium," said Na, who appeared in three national team friendlies this month. "We haven't had much trouble scoring. We have to start defending better and try to keep opponents off the board.

Also this week, Jeju will try to put some more pressure on Ulsan when they host Incheon United at 6 p.m. Saturday. Cellar-dwelling Seongnam FC will chase only their third victory of 2022 in a home match against Daegu FC at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Friday night's matches will feature Gimcheon Sangmu against Suwon FC, and Pohang Steelers vs. Gangwon FC.

Following the extended layoff, matches will come fast and furious for K League 1 clubs. Three matches are scheduled each for next Tuesday and Wednesday in Matchweek 17, followed by three more each on June 25 and 26.

In this May 29, 2022, file photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League, Jang Ho-ik of Suwon Samsung Bluewings (L) and Kim Dong-hyun of Gangwon FC battle for the ball during the clubs' K League 1 match at Gangneung Stadium in Gangneung, 220 kilometers east of Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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