K League Preview: Korean Soccer Is Back

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After weeks of attention on post-Soviet nations ruled by strongmen – hello Belarus, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – the eyes of the soccer world turn to South Korea, as one of the biggest leagues in Asia is set to begin play.

The K League will be back in action on Friday night Australian time with Jeonbuk Motors hosting Suwon Bluewings.

There are plenty of positives to take out of this: (1) The games are in our timezone, kicking off between 3pm and 8pm AEST. (2) There are a few Aussies in action, including the K League’s top scorer last year, Adam Taggart, the former Perth Glory star who plays for Suwon. (3) Optus Sport did a last second deal and will cover two games live per week.

The K League is a 12-team league with promotion and relegation. Last season’s champions were Jeonbuk Motors, who have won the last three titles. Here’s a rundown on all 12 teams.

Jeonbuk Motors

City: North Jeolla
Owner: Hyundai Motor Company
Honours: 7-time title winners (have won last 3) and won Asian CL twice (2006, 2016)
Last season: 1st, won the title
Odds of winning 2020 title: $2.10 (favourite)

THE TRADERS SAY: South Korea’s most successful club, having won five of the last six championships. Veteran Lee-Donk Gook is still kicking a ball at 41. All three overseas players are new signings with Aussie Bernie Ibini returning home to the Jets and star striker Ricardo Lopes hitting Chinese shores. It may give hope to the chasing pack.

 

Ulsan Hyundai

City: Ulsan
Owner: Hyundai Heavy Industries
Honours: 2-time title winners (1995, 2005) and Asian CL winner (2012)
Last season: 2nd
Odds of winning 2020 title: $3.50

THE TRADERS SAY: Still recovering from the final horror match of last season where they blew the title against Pohang Steelers losing 4-1. JASON DAVIDSON formerly of Perth (and Huddersfield before they were any good), is the Aussie rep and they will rely on the goal scoring of Júnior Negrão. Perth Glory have them in this season’s suspended Asian Champions League.

 

FC Seoul

City: Seoul
Owner: GS Group (holding company that includes CalTex)
Honours: 6-time title winners and Asian CL runners up twice (2002, 2013)
Last season: 3rd
Odds of winning 2020 title: $6.00

THE TRADERS SAY: A distant 3rd last season. Have already beaten Melbourne Victory in this season’s Asian Champions League. One club man Go Ho Yang leads them on their merry way this year with the support of Adriano, unfortunately not the Adriano of yesteryear.

 

Pohang Steelers

City: Pohang
Owner: POSCO (steel company)
Honours: 5-time title winners and won Asian CL three times (1995, 1998, 2009)
Last season: 4th
Odds of winning 2020 title: $9.50

THE TRADERS SAY: The Steelers welcome Aussie BRANDON O’NEILL on board. Despite their prestigious history, they are infamous for blowing one of the all-time great leads in a game last season, conceding three times in injury time against Gangwon (see below).

Daegu FC

City: Daegu
Owner: Daegu government
Honours: Never won league title (runners up in 2016)
Last season: 5th
Odds of winning 2020 title: $23.00

THE TRADERS SAY: Hard to see them mixing it with the big boys in the top three. The two Brazilians Edgar and Cesinha lead the line again and will be their danger men, having scored half of all goals last season.

 

Gangwon FC

City: Gangwon
Owner: Gangwon provincial government
Honours: Never won league title
Last season: 6th
Odds of winning 2020 title: $23.00

THE TRADERS SAY: The other side of the Pohang miracle win mentioned earlier. Their team is made up of nearly all home-based players.  A 5th/6th place finish again will be their aim.

 

Sangju Sangmu

City: Sangju
Owner: Sangju government and Korea Armed Forces
Honours: Never won league title
Last season: 7th
Odds of winning 2020 title: $101.00

THE TRADERS SAY: Fascinating club that is made up entirely of players doing their mandatory Korean military service. But because the arrangement with the armed forces runs out after this season, Sangju Sangmu will be automatically relegated no matter where they finish. A mid-table finish will be the aim.

 

Suwon Bluewings

City: Suwon
Owner: Cheil World (subsidiary of Samsung)
Honours: 4-time title winners
Last season: 8th
Odds of winning 2020 title: $21.00

THE TRADERS SAY: The home of two Aussies, ADAM TAGGART and TERRY ANTONIS. Taggart has a seriously good goals per game record in Korea, finishing joint top goalscorer in the regular season last year. Hard to see them challenging the top two teams, but the Cup win last season shows they are better than last season’s finishing position.

 

Seongnam FC

City: Seongnam
Owner: Seongnam city council
Honours: 7-time title winners and won Asian CL twice (1995, 2010)
Last season: 9th
Odds of winning 2020 title: $91.00

THE TRADERS SAY: League survival will be their aim and if by any chance there are any SV Wacker Burghausen fans in Australia, they’ll be delighted to see former player Igor Jovanović plying his trade here. Nickname is the Magpies in case any Collingwood supporters are looking for a K League team.

 

Incheon United

City: Incheon
Owner: Incheon government
Honours: Never won league title (runners up in 2005)
Last season: 10th
Odds of winning 2020 title: $201.00

THE TRADERS SAY: Survival will be the plan. Aussie RASHID MAHAZI, formerly of Melbourne Victory and the Western Sydney Wanderers, will be in his second season.

 

Gwangju FC

City: Gwangju
Owner: Gwangju government
Honours: Never won league title
Last season: Won K League 2, promoted
Odds of winning 2020 title: $201.00

THE TRADERS SAY: Champions of K2 last season. Back after a two-year absence and retained most of their players who went on a 20-game unbeaten run last season. Will aim for a mid-table finish with a few surprises along the way.

 

Busan IPark

City: Busan
Owner: IPark Construction (division of Hyundai)
Honours: 4 league titles
Last season: Promoted from K League 2 via playoff
Odds of winning 2020 title: $276.00

THE TRADERS SAY: Promoted last season. Home of three attacking Brazilians who will hope to keep them in the league this season.

 

Markets

K League outright markets here.

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