K League champions Jeonbuk to chase historic ‘treble’ in 2021

SEOUL-- Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors dominated South Korean football last year, lifting two major trophies by winning the K League 1 championship and the Korean FA Cup title.

Their new head coach wants to do one better in 2021.

Jeonbuk and 11 other clubs in the K League 1 were represented by their coaches and captains at the season-opening media day on Monday, five days before the opening kickoff for the new season. They each connected from their clubhouses in the virtual press conference.

From the get-go, Kim Sang-sik, promoted from his top assistant position to take Jeonbuk's reins in December, laid out a specific objective for the new season.

"Our goal is to win our fifth straight title in the K League 1 and also capture our second straight FA Cup," Kim said. "We'll also look to win the Asian Champions League."

Kim was referring to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, the continent's top club competition. When last year's AFC tournament resumed in November after a long hiatus brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Jeonbuk had already bagged their K League and FA Cup titles.

But Jeonbuk's bid for a third major trophy -- which would have entailed a historic "treble" -- fizzled, as they were knocked out of the group stage.

No K League club has ever completed a treble.

To accomplish their lofty goal, Kim said he'd like to see Jeonbuk score more goals.

They didn't exactly have trouble finding the back of the net last year, with 46 goals in 27 matches putting them in third place in that category.

But with some new faces on offense in place, including forwards Stanislav Iljutcenko and Kim Seung-dae, the new coach thinks Jeonbuk will be capable of more.

"We want to average at least two goals per match," Coach Kim said. That would mean at least 76 goals in 38 matches this year. "If Iljutcenko, Kim Seung-dae and (incumbent) Gustavo can combine for 40 goals, we should be able to score two goals per game."

Jeonbuk's chase for history will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday against FC Seoul at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul.

Jeonbuk held off Ulsan Hyundai FC for each of the last two league titles. Ulsan will try to get the better of Jeonbuk this time under new head coach, Hong Myung-bo, the former South Korean national team captain and one of the country's biggest football icons.

Ulsan finished three points behind Jeonbuk last year, after losing all three meetings against them.

As important as it'll be to change that narrative, Hong said he's not going to expend all of his energy just on Jeonbuk.

"Matches against 10 other teams will be just as crucial," Hong said. "We'll try to grab as many points as we can against Jeonbuk but we have to do the same thing against other clubs."

Ulsan's season opener will be against Gangwon FC on March 1.

Other opening weekend matchups are: Daegu FC versus Suwon FC on Saturday, Pohang Steelers against Incheon United on Sunday, Suwon Samsung Bluewings versus Gwangju FC on Sunday, and Seongnam FC against Jeju United on March 1.

The K League 1 has set out to play a full 38-match schedule this year. Its 2020 season was cut to 27 matches, after the start of the year was pushed back by more than two months to May 8 due to effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, clubs will first play 33 matches and then will be split into two tiers. They will then play five more matches within their group to determine the final standings.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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