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Seoul, Seongnam look for spark

The 2011 K-League season is proving to be nothing if not unpredictable. Usual minnows such as Daejeon Citizen, Daegu FC and Sangju Sangmu are enjoying the rarified air near the top of the standings while there are some prestigious names floundering in the depths of the 16-team league.

Just take a look at FC Seoul and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. Seoul lifted the domestic title in December just a month after Seongnam held the Asian Champions League trophy aloft after a famous victory in Tokyo.

Much has changed since, as both teams are struggling in the 2011 campaign to match the feats of 2010. It is not that early any more. Six games already have been played in the K-League ― meaning that a fifth of the regular season is done and dusted. There is still a long way to go but there is enough to be concerned about.

Seoul has collected just six points from six games this season, one more than Seongnam. Seoul’s problems have been well-documented compared to the Yellows just to the south of the capital. It has improved a little since two losses in the opening three games had fans openly wondering about the ability of new coach Hwangbo Kwan to lead the team.

“I would like to apologize for the slow start in the K-League. However, we are getting better and better slowly with every game,” said Hwangbo earlier this week. “The reason for FC Seoul having a slow start is because the rest of the teams are focusing on the league and are sharpening their knife toward our team as we were the defending champions.”
FC Seoul manager Hwangbo Kwan (Yonhap News)
FC Seoul manager Hwangbo Kwan (Yonhap News)

The recent 3-1 win over Jeonbuk Motors was the first of the season and had fans smiling, especially as star striker Dejan Damjanovic grabbed two goals and new signing Mauricio Molina also got his first since signing from Seongnam.

The departure of the Colombian craftsman in the offseason was a signal for Seongnam fans that the 2011 campaign may not be quite as enjoyable as the one before. Molina had starred for two seasons for the seven-time champions and also managed seven goals in the run to Asian glory.

Korea’s international goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong left for Suwon Bluewings as did striker Choi Sung-kuk. Jeon Kwang-jin is in China while Montenegrin striker Dzenan Radonic has been injured and has yet to make an appearance this year. At the moment, the new-look team is struggling. On Sunday, a last-minute goal from Incheon United condemned Seongnam to another defeat.

The fact that Seongnam didn’t manage to qualify for the 2011 Asian Champions League by finishing high enough in the 2010 K-League standings was a blow to the club. In the past, the Asian Football Confederation allowed the champion to defend its title ― but no longer. And the tightening of the purse strings at the club has left supporters feeling gloomy.

Coach Shin Tae-young is open about the new reality about the club but insists that the spirit still survives.

“We still have a good atmosphere around the team,” said Shin. “We may not be No. 1 in the standings but in terms of the feeling in the roster, it is No. 1.”

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