One club will try to stay in the top flight in South Korean football, while another will look to join the big boys after six years away.
It will be Gangwon FC of the K League 1 versus Daejeon Hana Citizen of the K League 2 in this year's two-legged promotion-relegation playoffs. The opening leg will kick off at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Daejeon's home, Hanbat Stadium in Daejeon, some 160 kilometers south of Seoul. The return leg will be 2 p.m. on Sunday at Gangneung Stadium in Gangneung, about 230 kilometers east of the capital.
The winner, to be determined on the aggregate score, will compete in the K League 1 next year. The loser will end up in the K League 2.
Gangwon ended up in the playoff after finishing in 11th place, second from last, in the top division. They'd spent three seasons, from 2014 to 2016, in the second division before earning promotion to the K League 1.
But they had a tumultuous 2021 season, which included a COVID-19 outbreak and midseason firing of head coach Kim Byung-soo, who was also accused of assaulting an assistant coach.
Former FC Seoul boss Choi Yong-soo was hired in mid-November, with two matches left on the season, but he couldn't drag Gangwon FC out of the relegation zone. They got locked into 11th place with a scoreless draw against FC Seoul on Nov. 28, and beat Seongnam FC 2-1 in the season finale on Sunday.
Forward Kim Dae-won scored both Gangwon goals in Sunday's win and finished the season with a team-high nine goals.
Coached by Lee Min-sung, Choi's teammate at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Daejeon Hana Citizen last played in the K League 1 in 2015. They finished the K League 2 season in third place this year, and then survived two rounds of playoffs to reach the promotion-relegation showdown.
Japanese midfielder Masatoshi Ishida, under contract with Gangwon FC but loaned to Daejeon in June, led the K League 2 club with nine goals in just 15 matches. He was also named to the K League 2 Best XI squad for the season.
Ishida didn't have any goals or assists in his first nine games with Gangwon this year before switching clubs, and now he will try to foil Gangwon's bid to stay in the big league.
There have been seven promotion-relegation playoffs so far, and the K League 2 teams earned promotions in five of them.
Only Sangju Sangmu in 2017 and FC Seoul in 2018 successfully defended their turf. Choi, the current Gangwon FC head coach, was at FC Seoul's helm in 2018. (Yonhap)