Coaches for leading K League contenders express confidence in title chase

SEOUL– Head coaches of the two leading contenders for the South Korean football title this year said Wednesday they’re both confident in their pursuit of the ultimate prize, with the start of the season’s final stretch just around the corner.

Ulsan Hyundai FC find themselves atop the K League 1 tables with 66 points, five ahead of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the five-time defending champions. With 33 matches in the books, the top six clubs have been paired into “Final A,” while the bottom six have ended up in “Final B.” Teams will now play five more matches within their groups to finish out the season.
At the media day event for the Final A clubs, Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo and his Jeonbuk counterpart Kim Sang-sik both said they will run the table the rest of the campaign.

“I think we may be able to seal the deal early,” Hong said. “If we are trying to just protect our lead, we will only make life difficult on ourselves. We will look to be aggressive in all our matches.”

If Ulsan have the advantage in points, Jeonbuk have recent history on their side. In each of the past three years, Jeonbuk squeezed past Ulsan in late days — sometimes on the very last day of the season — to snatch the crown.

“Our goal is to win all five remaining matches and pick up 15 more points,” Kim said. “It will give us 76 points, the same total as last year, and we’re going to go for the championship again.”

Hong wasn’t Ulsan’s coach for the first two of their three recent collapses, but he knows all about the mental toll that those late-season stumbles have taken on veteran players who’ve been around. He said there is no reason for his team to fear anything at this point.

“I’ve analyzed our recent history from many different angles, and there’s really no special reason why we’ve taken a tumble this time of year,” Hong said. “It just comes down to performance on the pitch. We failed to win those titles not because of the calendar, but because of our poor showing.”

Hong said he has a great deal of confidence in his squad as they try to exorcise their demons.

“The players have been able to overcome some difficulties, both mentally and physically,” the coach added. “There’s reason for optimism here. We’ve had a few comeback wins and I just feel like we’re such a strong squad.”

Ulsan captain Lee Chung-yong said the players who’ve been around for the past three close calls have long put that history behind them.

“Just because we came up short last year, it doesn’t have bearing on our performance this year,” Lee said. “There’s no secret between us and Jeonbuk. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We have to stick to what we’re good at, and we have a lot of confidence in ourselves.”

The split phase of the season begins with matches on Saturday. The one final showdown between Ulsan and Jeonbuk will be Oct. 8.

Source: Yonhap News Agency