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Gangwon FC rally past Daejeon to avoid K League relegation

SEOUL-- Riding an unlikely offensive explosion, Gangwon FC pounded Daejeon Hana Citizen 4-1 on Sunday to stave off relegation in South Korean football.

Thanks to the resounding win at Gangneung Stadium in Gangneung, some 240 kilometers east of Seoul, Gangwon took the two-legged K League promotion-relegation playoffs by the aggregate score of 4-2.

Daejeon won the opening leg 1-0 at home last Wednesday and were trying to return to the top-flight K League 1 for the first time since 2015.

Daejeon even scored the first goal in Sunday's match but then allowed four unanswered goals to see their big league dreams evaporate.

Gangwon fell to the playoffs after finishing in 11th place, second from last, in the K League 1. They spent three seasons in the K League 2, from 2014 to 2016, but have been in the top league every year since then.

Gangwon became the first club to win the promotion-relegation playoffs after dropping the opening leg.

"I am so proud of our players for staging this comeback in front of our home supporters," Gangwon FC head coach Choi Yong-soo said. "Even though we conceded the first goal, I felt our players were still moving well and I stayed patient with them. They really came through today."

The teams traded four goals in a wildly entertaining first half.

Though Gangwon dominated the early run of play, Daejeon opened the scoring with a 16th-minute wonder goal by Lee Jong-hyun, whose screamer from well outside the box found the top right corner.

The stunning strike gave Daejeon a 2-0 aggregate lead, meaning Gangwon now needed three goals to win the playoff.

And they did just that, getting three goals in an incredible four-minute span.

The first one was an own goal by Daejeon in the 26th minute. Forward Kim Dae-won charged down the left wing after a give-and-go with Lee Jung-hyub, and his shot attempt went off defender Lee Zi-sol's right foot and rolled through the wickets of goalkeeper Kim Dong-jun.

In the next minute, Gangwon scored on a well-executed set piece, as Lim Chai-min headed in a corner taken by Kim Dae-won for a 2-1 lead in the match. The aggregate score was all knotted at 2-2 but Daejeon were still ahead on the away goal rule.

Gangwon took the aggregate lead in the 30th minute, on a great individual effort by Han Kook-young.

When the ball popped loose into an on open area just outside the box, the midfielder pounced on it and drove into the teeth of the defense. Han then fought off two defenders before firing it home for a 3-1 lead in the match and a 3-2 advantage in the aggregate score.

Daejeon didn't have to win the match outright. They only needed to pull even in the aggregate score at 3-3, and they would win the playoffs with more away goals in the bag.

Instead, it was Gangwon that came close to tacking on a goal in the opening moments of the second half.

Daejeon's first serious chance of the second half came in the 69th minute, with Kim Seung-sub successfully getting behind the defense to take a cross from Lee Jong-hyun but only hitting the left side of the net.

Gangwon goalkeeper Lee Gwang-yeon then came up with a season-saving stop in the 87th minute, denying Bruno Baio from the point-blank range to keep Gangwon up 3-2 in the aggregate.

With the clock ticking down, Hwang Mun-ki sealed the deal for Gangwon, dancing into the box past multiple defenders and slotting the ball into the bottom left corner for a 4-1 lead in the match, and a 4-2 advantage in the aggregate.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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