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Changes at top, bottom of K League table looming

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

By Sunday evening, there could be a new team at the top of South Korean football for the first time in two months.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will try to overtake Ulsan Hyundai FC for first place in the K League 1 when they both take the field Sunday.

By beating Ulsan 2-1 on Tuesday, Jeonbuk closed the gap to two points, 47-45. The win also snapped Jeonbuk's season-high winless skid at three.

In a winnable match on Sunday, Jeonbuk will host Busan IPark, who are stuck in 10th place with 21 points and are in danger of being relegated to the K League 2 just one season after earning the promotion. Busan have just one win in their last six.

Sunday is the final day before the 12 clubs are split into two tiers. The top six will be paired into "Final A," and the rest will make up "Final B." They will then play five matches within their own groups to close out the season.

All matches on Sunday will kick off at 3 p.m. While trying to handle Busan, Jeonbuk players will also be rooting hard for Incheon United, the last-place club who will host Ulsan the same day.

After opening the season with a 15-match winless streak, Incheon United have come alive with four wins in their last half-dozen matches, a run that has them primed for a vault out of the league cellar. No team has picked up more points than Incheon's

13 in that span. Ulsan pounded Incheon 4-1 in their most recent meeting on July 4, but this is a different Incheon team now.

"We won't be pushed around," said Incheon head coach Jo Sung-hwan after Wednesday's victory. "They'd better be prepared for us."

 Incheon have pulled into a tie in points with Suwon Samsung Bluewings at 18, though Suwon are in 11th place for now because of their edge in the goals scored tiebreaker (18-15).

Suwon have been stuck in neutral for a couple of months now, and the recent coaching change that brought in former franchise star Park Kun-ha hasn't produced desired results. Park has had one loss and one draw so far. The sample size is admittedly small, but there are only six matches left this year and time isn't on Suwon's side.

Suwon will take on Gangwon FC, who are in a battle of their own.

Gangwon are presently holding down the sixth and the last spot for Final A with 24 points, but FC Seoul also have 24 points while trailing Gangwon in the goals scored department, and Gwangju FC and Seongnam FC are only two points back.

Getting into Final A guarantees teams that they won't finish the season lower than sixth. But any club in Final B faces the danger of relegation -- especially so this season as only six points separate the bottom six teams.

FC Seoul will play Daegu FC, likely without veteran midfielder Ki Sung-yueng. Ki suffered a knee injury during Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Incheon United.

Seongnam and Gwangju will face each other with a top-six berth at stake.

In a match with perhaps the least on the line, No. 3 Sangju Sangmu and No. 4 Pohang Steelers will square off.

Both clubs are locked into Final A. Sangju have been the league's biggest overachiever this season, but in exchange for relocating to another city next year, the club made up of conscripted players will face automatic relegation to the K League 2, regardless of where they finish.

The third-place team will get into the playoffs for next year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. And with Sangju ineligible for the tournament even if they finish third, the fourth-place club will then take the AFC ticket.

Pohang are sitting five points ahead of Daegu. (Yonhap)



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