KPA + K-League Roundup 11/4-11/5 : Son & Suk scores / Gwangju relegated [updated]

Just a few hours into international break and a certain Korean has shattered another record: Son Heung-Min becomes the highest scoring Asian in the Premier League. Meanwhile Suk Hyun-Jun scores his first goal in Ligue 1 and by doing so, may have rebooted his career for the umpteenth time – a remarkable journey that started several years ago with a chance trial at Ajax. We’ll try to do this quickly…

Son Heung-Min / 90 minutes and a fantastic composed finish against Crystal Palace when the ball booted out to him in the 64th minute. It was just enough to earn Spurs all 3 points as Poch struggled to cobble together a healthy squad that’s been plagued by injuries. No Dele Alli, no Lloris, no Alderweireld — not even 2nd string keeper Michael Vorm was available as he incurred a freak training injury. Fortunately they had Crystal Palace to contend with.  While there is much to celebrate with Son’s beautiful finish – there are the 2 sides of Son that we all too well know – the streaky Son that loses confidence and possession far too readily – and the pacey winger links up well, fit in well with Poch’s system and has a knack for scoring goals -that is when he’s not busy missing shots.  In this match, we saw both sides of Son: the brilliant clutch goal scorer who earned his wages with a undeniable 110% workrate AND the wasteful, delayed decision prone Son who botched a chance later in the game to put it away with 2 gilted edge chances.  Son’s failure at a hat trick can be viewed in a number of ways, but in the end, Son no doubt had more positive impact that helped his side stay in the hunt for the Prem title. If Son can learn from the tapes today, the future is still bright. We will not only see more goals from him in a Spurs uniform, we may see a wiser and more efficient Son than the mixed performance everyone saw today.  Or the streaky unpredictable Son carries on, b0th for club and country. The last word is this: it isn’t due to sheer luck that he is the highest Asian goal scorer in Premier League history (beating Park Ji-Sung’s 19 Prem goals). The highest Korean and for that matter, the entire continent is no small feat. A bit has been made of the fact but Son won’t be resting on those stats. He expressed in post match interviews that he’s still hungry for more goals. Should he be able to finally tweak a few elements of his game (debatable if it’s possible but under Poch, not impossible) Son’s stock will continue to rise.

 

 

 

Crystal Palace meanwhile didn’t feature Lee Chung-Yong. Made it a quite a bit easier for neutrals to pick Spurs then.

Ki Sung-Yeung: 90 minutes for Swansea in a 0-1 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion (Ki is getting more minutes in recent matches for Swansea and appears to have fully recovered from his knee surgery).

Koo Ja-Cheol: 83 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen / Ji Dong-Won subbed in for him

Kwon Chang-Hoon: 64 minutes for Dijon in a 0:1 loss away at Nice

Lee Seung-Woo: in the 18 but didn’t get to play for Hellas Verona in their 2:1 loss away at Cagliari. I’m not getting this coach… I understand one person can’t win a match – but with losses mounting and a unflattering 6 points and mired in a relegation position, might a roster selection shakeup give this squad a fighting chance?  Inserting a Barcelona product to bolster the offense might make more sense than the way they’re going now…

Suk Hyun-Jun: how many lives does this cat have?  With balls of steel, 7 years ago Suk had the audacity to go and ask for a trial at Ajax. Unbelievably, manager Martin Jol at the time went ahead and granted the young man his wish.  Even more remarkably, Ajax gave him a contract. His up and down roller coaster career since then took him from the Netherlands to Portugal, then to the deserts of the Middle East where many get lost and never return. That was not Suk’s fate. He managed to get picked up by CD Nacional and a move back to Portugal, then hopped over to Vitoria Setubal – all throughout he kept steadily scoring more goals until his breakout year at Setubal -followed by a blockbuster move to Porto in 2016. However a manager sacking and change in Porto management left Suk on the fringes. Loan spells to Turkey and Hungary might have been another career ending move for Suk. Without warning, Troyes in Ligue 1 took a chance on Suk and with just his 2nd start in France, scored his first Ligue 1 goal, a great header that broke the deadlock against Strasborg on Saturday. Troyes would go on to win 3-0 and the mood as you can well guess was bonkers celebratory. In the youtube vid below, Suk addressed his teammates in English thanking them for acknowledging his 1st league goal for the club – but was humble and talked simply about the most important thing – to win. His mates understood enough and that resulted in even more applause for Suk.

I feel like I wrote this when Suk was having his breakout year with double digit goal scoring in 2015 – but should he get his goal scoring mojo back with regularity, he can once again be a potential asset for the KNT – something that he seemed on the cusp of more than a year ago.

 

 

I hate to do this but I’m going to have to come back to this post – we got a neat preview coming up for the Korea friendlies with Colombia and Serbia very soon by Jeju based writer Tom Marcantonio, but I do want to update on Round 37 of the K-League Classic.  I don’t have much details but Gwangju FC has been relegated. Sad news as they seemed like a club that had personality and enough of the right spirit to be competitive when they were promoted back to the K-League in 2014 (*they also hold the distinction of being among the first clubs to be relegated when pro/rel was inaugurated back in 2012).  To be determined: the final Asian Champions League spots and the 11th place team that has to fight to stay in the Classic against a TBD K-League Challenge team – that very interesting playoff with begin soon.  That an a certain Valencia academy player with a ton of promise played in a KNT U19 uniform recently — and the Korean video bloggers were rightfully going gaga over his performance.  But all that will have to wait for a few more hours —Be back soon…

Ok I’m back: surprised (and yet not surprised) that FC Seoul would capitulate to Gangwon…

Championship results

Saturday, November 4

Gangwon
4
FT

FC Seoul
0
Sunday, November 5

Jeju
0
FT

Suwon Bluewings
0

Ulsan
1
FT

Jeonbuk
2

Relegation Round results

Saturday, November 4

Sangju Sangmu
3
FT

Pohang Steelers
4

Daegu
2
FT

Gwangju
0
Sunday, November 5

Jeonnam Dragons
2
FT

Incheon
2

With Jeonbuk sealing up the title earlier, the championship table race for Asian Champions League spots could (techinically) still be up for grabs. But the permutations work out this way – let’s look at the top half of the table:

K League Classic
Standings
#
Team
MP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
Pts
1
Jeonbuk
37
22
9
6
71
32
39
75
2
Jeju
37
19
9
9
58
34
24
66
3
Suwon Bluewings
37
16
13
8
60
39
21
61
4
Ulsan
37
16
11
10
40
44
-4
59
5
FC Seoul
37
15
13
9
53
40
13
58
6
Gangwon
37
13
10
14
58
63
-5
49

The 3 automatic spots have pretty much been decided since FC Seoul decided to limp away from Gangwon with a 4:1 loss.  Should FC Seoul win at home to Jeju and Suwon not score at Jeonju in the final round Nov 18/19, Seoul would have to do so with a 9:0 win to catch up with Suwon’s goal difference.  So that’s not going to happen. With Ulsan in the Korea FA Cup title, the winner between Busan Ipark and Ulsan will go on to Asian Champions League next season.

At the bottom, we already know Gwangju is relegated – but who will join Gwangju? Daegu and Pohang are safe, but while Sangju dipped into the dreaded 11th position – that hot potato is left between Sangju, Incheon and Jeonnam – all within mere points of each other in this darwinian scramble to escape the void of a playoff/promotion with a TBD upstart Challenge team —and keep in mind, the last several years, the upstarts won that series to win promotion and seal the fate of their downward trending Classic counterparts. All those teams essentially play each other in the final 38th round of the season the weekend of Nov 18th and 19th.

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