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Many changes in store as K-League season set to kick off

The fixtures for the new K-League season have finally been announced and the 29th edition kicks off on March 5. There is much to look forward to in 2011 but it is a case of getting in at the deep end for the nation’s soccer fans as the opening weekend sees a clash between the country’s two biggest rivals FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings.

More than 60,000 are expected at Seoul World Cup Stadium and it promises to be some match. Soccer authorities would have preferred it to take place later in the season but these are the rules. The K-League champion and FA Cup holder always meet in the opening weekend. Seoul took the title in 2010. Suwon lifted the cup back in October. 

That now seems like a long time ago. Much has changed since, as the number of new faces on display at the beginning of next month will demonstrate. Seoul has changed its coach. Nelo Vingada led the capital club to the title last December before continuing his career habit of not sticking around in one job for long. The Portuguese tactician has been replaced by a Korean, Kwan Hwangbo. The appointment is something of a gamble. 
Chunnam’s new  goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae  (Yonhap News)
Chunnam’s new  goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae  (Yonhap News)

The Daegu-born coach has been working in Japan with Oita Trinita of late but has done little to write home about in Kyushu and led the club to 15th position last season ― in the second division. Now he faces the challenge of taking the Korean champion to defend its title at home while targeting the Asian Champions League at the same time. It is quite a step up for the former international player.

He and the club have been busy. The biggest signing of the offseason has been that of Mauricio Molina. The former Colombian international has been perhaps the best player in the K-League since joining Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in 2009. Fifteen billion won was reportedly handed to Seongnam to secure his services. It could be a bargain. If Molina, who scored seven goals in the 2010 Asian Champions League, can reproduce such form for Seoul in 2011, then the men in red and black will take some stopping both at home and abroad.

Montenegrin marksman Dejan Damjanovic is still there as is Brazilian favorite Adilson. International defender Kim Dong-jin left in 2006 for Russia and has returned to the capital via Ulsan. Stars such as Choi Hyo-jin and Kim Chi-woo have departed for military duty but Uzbekistan’s main man Server Djeparov has made his loan move permanent. The 2008 Asian Player of the Year spent the second half of 2010 on loan with Seoul and rebuffed advances from Suwon to sign on the dotted line for the champion.

“I think the K-League is the best league in Asia and that is why I came back,” said Djeparov. “It was not about money at all. If it was I could have gone to West Asia. It was my decision to go to Korea because I wanted to play here.

“Every player in FC Seoul welcomed me and I get along well with all my teammates, especially Kim Dong-jin, who can speak Russian. My main aim is to score as many goals as possible and win the K-League again this year. I also want to win the Asian Champions League and FA Cup.”

Bluewings fans won’t be too down-hearted at missing out on Djepaorv ― the club has been busy enough in the transfer market as it is. Veteran goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae has been sent south to Chunnam Dragons to end his career. His replacement is the man who replaced him on the national team. The Bluewings had to pay Seongnam over a million dollars for Jung Sung-ryong. If he lasts half as long as Lee, the big fee will represent great value for money.

By John Duerden, Contributing writer  (johnduerden@hotmail.com)
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