16 for 2016 Part II: Glory to the K League, NTs in crisis, and Lee Seungwoo’s Future

Here’s the long-awaited Part II to the Tavern’s 16 for 2016. The latter half of the year post-Olympics saw some serious ups and downs with Stielike and some major plot twists on the domestic scene. Without further ado, let’s continue this series with #9 on the list:

9. A Bump in the Road to Russia – China surprises & the return of chimdaechukgu

It was August of 2016 when the first NT callup was announced. The final round of World Cup qualification was just about to begin and with a stellar record in the previous round (not a single goal conceded, top of the table, etc) the mood was bright. People expected comfortable victories against our first two opponents China and Syria. There were even reports of China trying to pay ridiculous amounts of money to send their fans to Seoul, but the KFA, refusing to be outnumbered by Chinese fans on home turf, blocked the move and only alotted about 1/5 of the seats to away fans. As it turns out the stadium was nearly packed at 51,000 spectators. After all, don’t we all love a good beatdown of our immediate neighbors?

Well, either there was a huge gulf in the level of opposition (China vs. Kuwait, Lebanon) or we regressed hard because it took us 60 minutes to score a proper goal. While we did score in the 20th due to an own goal, the China match quickly turned out to be one of those awfully familiar KNT matches where you wonder why the **** you woke up at 6 AM. Pass misses? Check. Jang Hyunsoo doing an awful job at RB? Check. Now, we did manage to score twice out of nowhere in the space of three minutes thanks to some lightning reflexes from JDW and a classic LCY header (realization: the half of LCY’s 8 KNT goals were headers). But add to the usual “why did I wake up for this” mix the following: 1) Ki Sungyong being completely invisible and 2) our sort of decent defense falling into shambles. In the complete reverse of the one sequence of joy in this match, China responded with 2 goals in 3 minutes of their own. While we held on for the win, little did we know this match would foreshadow the state of affairs going forward. For a great analysis of the China game, catch Tim’s Jae-style post here

The Syria match. Where do I even begin with this match that most people described as even more embarrassing than the Spain 6-1 loss? Do I talk about … a very classic case of “we can’t finish?” Should I talk about how the goalkeeper injured his hand maybe 7 times throughout the match? I think my past headline “Embarrassing Offense + Next Level Grassrolling” summed it up pretty well. But you know what? We fully deserved to get grassrolled to that level with how horribly we played. My writeup back in September was written in a state of rage – it catches just how wrong things went that day. Let’s not dwell on this anymore though… it can’t get much worse than this right? Right…?

 

10. “We Need Sebastian Soria” – Loss at Azadi turns players against Stielike

Welp. Things did get worse. Maybe not so much on the pitch, but we got pretty close to a Choi Kanghee vs. Ki Sungyong esque full player revolt going with Stielike’s inane comments after the Iran match.

But first let’s talk about Qatar. WE ALMOST LOST AGAINST QATAR. AGAIN! As of 45′ we were legit down 2-1. In yet another case of “scoring 2 goals in 3 minutes” and a deja vu of “SHM sinking Qatar” we did manage to seal the winner but this certainly left a truly sour taste in our mouths (was Hong Jeongho going to China the nail in the coffin for our defense? Or was Kuwait and Lebanon that much worse? We may never found out…). Ki Sungyong was again anonymous as was Son Heungmin (the man who had the PL player of the month award). What are you supposed to do when Whoscored’s best player in the world at the time and the widely-accepted best player in the Premier League at the time can’t crack down the defense of… Qatar? It left many asking… could Messi save this team?

Maybe he could, because at least Messi knows how to score against Iran. The latest edition of Korea vs. Iran was a deja vu x 3 because in the very classic Korea style, we lost 1-0 off a counter. How predictable does it get? The worst part is, this time Iran actually ran the show. Usually we sort of dominate the game and fail to score and get destroyed on a counter right? Well this time the momentum was pretty much 100% Iran. So yes, our players not named KJC SHM and JDW were out of form but still, the fact that Stielike got humiliated on this level seriously brings his management skills into question. The sad part? It took this Iran loss for the media to start even criticizing Stielike (which in my opinion, should have started much earlier).

The funniest thing is though, the horrific display on the pitch was completely overshadowed by the following quote:

In this place (Tehran) no Korean manager, no Korean players have ever won… no team could have won here today, that is the basic reason… We don’t have any strikers such as Qatar’s Sebastian Soria, and this is a problem… The real issue is that Korea’s youth system isn’t fundamentally strong…

Umm… what? We don’t have… Sebastian Soria? Look man I like Sebastian Soria too but the fact is he couldn’t cut it in the Uruguayan league (he’s from Uruguay by the way) so instead turned to Qatar, where he was naturalized. He’s never played in Europe. So you’d rather take Soria over, I don’t know, a guy who scored 4 Premier League goals in 5 games? And blaming precedent for not winning yourself?

No wonder the players complained about these remarks. For a deeper review of Stielike’s comments, check out one of the most popular posts of the year regarding the Stielike crisis.

 

11. Jeonbuk “Haunted” By Bribery Scandal

Jeonbuk’s bribery scandal was uncovered back in May. It had turned out that a scout from the successful K League side had bribed 2 refs over a period of five games. For each game the 2 refs were each paid 1 million won, which sounds like a lot but actually adds up to less than 1,000 dollars (remember: refs are not paid very well in Korea).

I put “haunted” in quotes because at first it seemed like this wouldn’t hurt them at all. The punishment doled out by the KFA was a 9 point deduction and a 100,000 fine. In fact, a lot of people came forth and said this punishment was way too lenient. OK so you could defend the KFA’s decision by saying that 1) Jeonbuk execs were not involved and rather an independent Jeonbuk employee came through with the bribery 2) there was no match fixing, rather, they only asked for favorable calls, and 3) these payments were made a few seasons ago. But still, if the punishment is this lenient… with Jeonbuk still leading by a fair margin in the K League… what kind of precedent does it set for future bribery and match fixing in the K League? Steve Han’s reactions:

Police investigation found that Jeonbuk bribed referees in at least 5 games. But they’re docked 3 games worth of points.

Also, the $100,000 fine levied on Jeonbuk is less than 1/20 of the combined annual salaries between Leonardo and Lee Dong-gook.

While this seemed lenient in the end it turns out that the 9 point deduction was significant – on the last matchday, Jeonbuk lost the K League title… but more on that later. For a more in depth review check out Roy’s reaction to the fairly lenient punishment

 

12. Another national team in crisis? Ahn Iksoo resigns, Jung Jungyong saves face

Just when you were pretty certain that things couldn’t get any worse the South Korea U19 side – the ultimate HOSTS of the 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup – got knocked out of the group stage. The worst part? Our group consisted of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Thailand. Ok so we did get screwed over by rules that are only found in the AFC (more details here) but it’s still true that 1. We were awful and 2. We got knocked out of the group stage AGAIN. The first time was embarrassing enough, but for the record titleholders of the AFC U19 championship (we’ve won almost half of them), to not even make it out of the group stage two competitions in a row just feels wrong.

But just when we thought this team was straight up hopeless despite the talent level, a man by the name of Jung Jungyong stepped up. Now, it’s true that our opposition, despite being from fancy heavyweight countries, are very jetlagged by the time they get to Korea (we play well at home but we fare worse away). But the difference between AIS U19 and JJY U19 was literally night and day. For a more indepth review of that, click here. If you want something uplifting for once you should probably read this. 

13. Sweet comeback in Seoul saves Stielike’s job – KNT end 2016 on high note

Stielike had his job on the line ahead of the Uzbek match. It was pretty clear that with 4 poor performances against Asian minnows, without a win against Uzbekistan our progression to the WC would be on the line. We had a friendly against Canada to prepare – we won 2-0 but that wasn’t a fun match to watch either.

And the Uzbek match took a turn for the worst. In classic Korean style our attacks were completely ineffective and Lee Jeong Hyup (who started this game, btw) contributed literally nothing, and Kim Seungkyu was found wayyy off his line for Bikmaev to score from 30 yards out. But Nam Taehee and Koo Jacheol would come to Stielike’s rescue, scoring in the 67th and 85th minutes, respectively. So the job was done and Stielike held onto his job, but the game surely left yet another sour taste in our mouths. This would be the last KNT match of 2016. In March when the qualifiers start back up again I really hope Stielike can get something together.

 

 

15. K League sorrow/Asian glory for Jeonbuk! While Seoul and Suwon wins trophies, too

Sometimes the K League classic is just straight unpredictable. Remember the final match between Ulsan and Pohang in (2013? 2012?) where Ulsan had been winning pretty much all season and only had to draw against Pohang, but lost the match on the final day and Pohang won the title due to goal difference? Something sort of similar happened this season. Jeonbuk had a commanding lead in the K League since round 12, and they maintained it until round 37. For a while they were 15 points clear of 2nd place FC Seoul. But then the 9 point deduction hit and newly appointed Hwang Sunhong had a fighting chance of getting Seoul to win the title. Sort of.

Seoul had gotten wrecked by Jeonbuk on a number of occasions this season. In late September Jeonbuk beat Seoul 4-1 in the ACL and Seoul only managed to win 2-1 on home turf. Plus, Jeonbuk were still 6 points clear even after the 9 point deduction and had never lost a game. But then Jeonbuk would lose to Jeju and drop points through draws, putting Seoul and Jeonbuk on equal footing on the very last round 38. And the rest is history – Seoul beat JB 1-0 and just barely overtook Jeonbuk to win the title. Congratulations to Hwang Sunhong for his second K League classic title and his second Manager of the Year award.

Jeonbuk had a chance to redeem themselves in the ACL final against Al-Ain, and redeem theirselves they did. After winning 2-1 at home, on November 26th Jeonbuk drew against Al-Ain 1-1 and claimed the 2016 AFC Asian Champions League trophy. It capped off what was pretty much a flawless season for the side (minus losing the title and the bribery scandal of course). Jeonbuk also held their weight in the Club World Cup – they didn’t get as far as the fluke that was Kashima Antlers but just barely lost, unluckily, to Club America in their first match.

Now the funny thing is, Suwon also won a trophy this time around! A supermatch was scheduled as the final match of the K League classic. And after a very tense PK shootout (those 19 PKs, by the way, were straight up flawless – it even went to the GK’s where YSH, Seoul’s keeper, screwed up), Suwon won the trophy to cap off a very interesting to the K League season.

 

14. Wait what? Ki Sungyong to China???

In late November/early December you may have seen the reports of KSY contemplating a move to China and hoped that it was a complete joke, but for some reason you just had the sinking feeling that it was completely serious. After all, Ki has said at one point (on Healing Camp I believe) that he wants to retire around the age of 30, raising serious doubts about his ambition and dedication as a footballer. For some reason if any high profile Korean player seemed China-bound it was KSY.

Fortunately, Ki stated that the captain of the KNT would never move to China. He also stated that he was not primarily motivated by money. Nitpickers will say that the “captain of the KNT” clause is worrisome because Ki will eventually lose his captaincy at some point (but no one is challenging him so probably unlikely in the near future). However, I think we can safely assume KSY will stay at Swansea for the remainder of the season. The team can be seen as one big sinking ship (they’re on 4 managers already), but hey at least KSY is somewhat seen as a valuable player to the team right?

 

16. A season wrapup for Lee Seungwoo

Mid-January of 2016 saw the long-awaited return of Barca whizkid Lee Seungwoo. After three years on the sidelines not able to play any league games, Lee was visibly rusty. He did improve steadily, however – here’s a good summary vid of what he’s been up to since (there’s a part 2!). Most recently, LSW returned to Korea for PJS’s charity match and publicity ahead of the U20 World Cup. Currently, he is in training camp in Portugal with the rest of the team.

What’s been stirring up interest recently, however, is the couple of tweets that said “LSW has not played to expectations, loan imminent.” The media lost its ****! LSW’s brother LSJ even complained for a long time (on social media) about that saying how overblown it was and everything. That being said, it’s a good thing he’s not going to Barca B because the playing time argument is real; moreover, I think a loan would be really good! The MSN trio isn’t going to let up anyway and surely playing Eredivisie or Bundesliga >>>>> Barca B. That team should be avoided as much as possible, imo.

 

And that’s a wrap! Those were are 16 moments for 2016. Are there any you think we missed / shouldn’t have included? Let us know in the comments!

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