Busan I’Park are just two points away from clinching the first stage title in the 2005 K-League season.
The FA Cup holders remain unbeaten after ten games and with two games remaining are in the enviable position of sitting five points above second-placed Ulsan Hyundai Horangi.
Coach Ian Porterfield has turned I’Park into an impressive, effective machine who in 2005 seem to effortlessly pick up points wherever they go. In sixteen games in the K-League and AFC Champions League the south-coast outfit have won thirteen and drawn three.
Such consistency is based on a tight defence, well-supported by international understudy Kim Yong-dae in goal but the Busan success story is one of some unsung heroes of Korean football – Lim Kwan-shik, Lee Jong-hyo, Park Seong-bae and Doh Hwa-seong. These players can’t be seen at the national level, which is not something that will overly concern their Scottish boss, but have produced a number of impressive performances that will, barring disaster, give Busan the first-stage ‘title’.
Another plus point for I’Park is the performances of new foreign signings, Brazilians Luciano and Bobo who have slowly but surely settled in well and made important contributions to the team’s success.
A 1-0 victory at the home of Chunnam Dragons, courtesy of a Lim Kwan-shik strike has put the AFC Champions League quarter-finalists within a win of the top spot and a place in the end of season championship play-offs.
With both remaining games to be played at the Busan World Cup Stadium, not many would bet against the leaders staying in pole position.
Even if the required two points are not forthcoming both Ulsan and Incheon United would have to collect the maximum return to overhaul the leaders. Such a feat seems to be beyond United who are going through a rough patch at a bad time and have collected just two points from the last four games, leaving the sophomore club sliding down the table.
Still, United will be more than happy with the first Bitcoin Dice stage in only their second season in existence and the performance of Jang Woe-ryong at the helm of the club bodes well for the future of the west coast club.
As Incheon have slipped, Seongnam Ilhwa have found their form with three wins in a row that have lifted the six-time champions into fifth place. It is much too late for Ilhwa to challenge Busan but the improvement means that the 2003 champions can look forward to the second stage.
The 2004 champions, Suwon will be looking forward to the next stage also but for different reasons as the opening phase has been a nightmare for the Bluewings who finally managed a second win of the season at the home of bottom club Gwangju Sangmu.
Coach Cha Bum-keun will need to win the second stage to have any chance of defending the title he won in his first season back in his native land; failure to do so will increase the pressure of the former Bundesliga star.
It is a similar story for FC Seoul, tipped by many to be Suwon’s challengers for the title. Injuries to the highly-rated Nonato and international duty for Park Chu-young have interfered with the capital club’s much-vaunted dream strike force and it has been Kim Eun-jung who has taken on the goalscoring burden for the LG-backed outfit. The team, formerly known as the Anyang Cheetahs, are yet another one under a lot of pressure to produce a dramatically improved second half of the season.
The same can be said, only more so, for Chonbuk Hyundai Motors, who only a few months ago were unluckily losing the AFC Champions League semi-final to eventual champions Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.
The Motors have spent much of the season rooted to the bottom spot, a dismal record that cost Jo Yoon-hwan his job as coach. His replacement Choi kang-hee has a wealth of experience with the national squad but will have his work cut out restoring confidence to a decent team – though the 2-1 win at Incheon United will help.
Park Ji-sung to United
The protracted transfer of South Korea’s star midfielder was finally settled with the English club paying a reported $7.4 million for the PSV Eindhoven midfielder.
The Dutch champions did their best to hang on to the 24 year-old but the lure of becoming the first Korean to play in the Premiership and for one of the world’s biggest clubs was too much for the former Kyoto Purple Sanga star to resist.
Park returned to his native Suwon to open a new road named in his honour and admitted that his first challenge was to break into the star-studded side.
“ I welcome the challenge and know that I have to prove myself,” the versatile midfielder told reporters “But playing at PSV gave me confidence and I believe that I can do well in Manchester, too.’’
The 2002 World Cup star has much to do to displace players such as Giggs, Keane, Scholes or Ronaldo but the player will be happy just to play.
“I don’t care much about my position. What is more important for me is whether I can play in the game or not,’’ he said.
Park’s determination, engine and no little skill should endear him to the Old Trafford faithful as well as the manager and the Korean hopes to win them over.
“I don’t think I will become a big star like David Beckham just yet. Maybe I can if I was more handsome,’’ he joked. “But I strive constantly to improve my game to become a better player, so I don’t think it is impossible to become a player like Beckham.’’
The Suwon-born star has come a long way since being turned down by his hometown club, Suwon Samsung Bluewings and is excited about playing for the two-time European champions.
“The facilities, the stadium, everything show why people call them the best club in the world. I felt so happy to be there,” he also had the opportunity to briefly speak to new boss Sir Alex Ferguson by phone. “It was a short conversation but he welcomed me to Manchester and said that he expected much of me.
The same could be said of his countrymen who will be watching his every move in the north-west of England.