So far, so good. The 2008 K-League is only two games old but it has already hinted at a fascinating season to come. The weather is warming, attendances are healthy, stars new and old are shining and the best part of all is that there are still another eight months to go.
It is unlikely that Incheon United will still be top of the table in November but the west coast club is the only one of the 14 that boasts a 100% record. Incheon won 2-0 at Jeju United on the opening weekend and then managed to beat Chunnam Dragons 1-0 on Sunday with a goal after just 41 seconds. Over the next 89 minutes or so, the Dragons, defeated 2-0 by Melbourne Victory in midweek in the Asian Champions League and then 4-3 by Gamba Osaka, managed to miss a whole host of chances. It just wasn’t their day.
With the league taking a break due to the small matter of a March 26 World Cup qualifier against North Korea in Shanghai, Incheon can enjoy the rest of the month safely perched on the top rung of the ladder. The club is the only one in Korea that play bazaar consistently makes a profit and it is a friendly one. Selling stars such as Dejan Damjanovic help the books balance but even the new FC Seoul striker was in the club’s office after the game on Sunday, smiling and joking with staff.
The Serbian had plenty to smile about. He had opened his account for his new club the previous day at the Jeonju home of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Also scoring a first for a new club was South Korean international Cho Jae-jin. The impressive Cho equalized for Jeonbuk only to see his rival for the national team striking spot Park Chu-young net a late winner to give Seoul the three points.
The Motors, tipped by many, including this writer, to be in for a good season, have stalled at the start line and are looking for a first point, just like Jeolla Province rivals Chunnam. Unlike the Dragons, Jeonbuk doesn’t have injuries and Asian travels to use as excuses. The team in green has the talent to move up a gear and up the table but two games and two defeats against Busan and Seoul, not the league’s toughest opponents, is a worry.
Champions Pohang Steelers are discovering that defending the title brings different kinds of pressures. The south-easterners were, like Chunnam, defeated by Australian opposition in the Asian Champions League last week. That loss at home to Adelaide was followed by an equally painful 3-0 lesson doled out by Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I on Saturday.
What of the two title favorites? Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma and Suwon Samsung Bluewings met in round two, the first big game of the season. The result was an exciting 2-2 draw and a confirmation that both teams will again be setting the standard over the next few months. The draw was Seongnam’s second this season. Suwon, inspired by the talented Lee Kwan-woo who scored two stunning goals, perhaps have a little more reason to be looking forward to the months ahead with confidence.
Perennial wooden-spoon winner Gwangju Sangmu is in nose-bleed territory with four points from two games. The first was a creditable 1-1 draw with Seongnam and the second a nice 2-0 win over a Gyeongnam club still struggling to come to terms with the pre-season loss of coach, top scorer and playmaker. The Ahn Jung-hwan effect hasn’t yet kicked in at Busan I’Park but the south coast club has started reasonably well.
There is still a long way to go but things are shaping up nicely.