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Posted : 2013-02-27 18:54
Updated : 2013-02-27 18:54

Football reboot

Suwon Samsung Bluewings' striker Jong Tae-se of North Korea, right, shares a laugh with teammate Cho Dong-geon while training in Central Coast, New South Wales, Australia, earlier this week. One of the most sensational aquisitions of the offseason, Jong is expected to bring more popularity to K League Classic which kicks off Saturday. / Yonhap



By Do Je-hae

Players, clubs, fans and the media will have to get used to the promotion-relegation system that will be introduced this year for the first time in the 30 years of Korean professional football.

For the first time, there will be two divisions: the K League Classic consisting of the top 14 teams from 2012 and the second-tier K League consisting of six sides. The bottom two clubs at the end of the season will drop down to the second division. The third-to-last K League Classic side will enter a two-leg playoff against the first-place team from the K League. The winner of this game will compete in the top flight the following season with the loser playing in the K League.

Also, the K League Classic will split into two based on teams' records after 26 games. The clubs will then each play 12 more games within their group to determine the final standings.

This new system faced opposition from struggling, community-owned clubs like Incheon United, Gyeongnam FC, Gwangju FC and Daejeon Citizen. But it is widely expected to upgrade Korean football and help eliminate irregularities like a major match-fixing scandal that saw nearly 60 players and coaches indicted on charges of match-rigging in 2011.

Front-runners

The K League Classic will begin its inaugural season Saturday, with 2012 champions FC Seoul hosting the reigning FA Cup winners Pohang Steelers in the first of the three matches on the opening day to be broadcast live by KBS1.

The two front-runners for the title are thought to be FC Seoul, owned by GS Group, and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

FC Seoul cruised to the title last year thanks to their powerful offense, led by striker Dejan Demjanovic of Montenegro and Mauricio Molina of Colombia. In 2012, Damjanovic established a new K-League high of 31 goals, while Molina set a single-season record with 19 assists.

The past four championships have been won by either FC Seoul, in 2010 and 2012, with Jeonbuk triumphant in 2009 and 2011.

During the offseason, the Motors have made impressive acquisitions, including Korea international defender Jung In-hwan from Incheon United, midfielder Lee Seung-gi from Gwangju FC and Belgian forward Kevin Oris from Daejeon Citizen.

"With these new players, Jeonbuk seem closest to winning this year. Suwon Samsung Bluewings, which finished fourth last year, and Ulsan Hyundai Tigers, the 2012 AFC Champions League victors, could also provide strong challenges," said SBS commentator Park Moon-seong.

Suwon also made headlines in the transfer market by signing North Korean striker Jong Tae-se from second-division German club 1. FC Cologne, while Pohang will be the only K League Classic club without a foreign player in their lineup.

"I'd rather try to build cohesion with the players we have, rather than paying a lot of money for a couple of foreign players. We're not a team that relies on one or two stars," Pohang head coach Hwang Sun-hong told Yonhap.

The K League Classic season will end on Dec. 1 and the relegation playoff will take place on Dec. 4 and 7.


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