A three to nil away victory over Jeju United clinched Jeonbuk Hyundai Motor’s 3rd K League title on game 35 of a 38-game season. The result, like the league, had been a formality for Jeobuk as this result gained them the unassailable lead over 2nd placed Suwon Bluewings who lost at home to an injury time goal in the K League Supermatch against Seoul FC attended by 34,029, the third largest crowd of the K League season.
With three games to spare Jeonbuk have rightly sealed up a title that has been also certainly theirs for the past couple of months. With early-season rivals Pohang Steelers having a extremely disappointing 2nd half of a World Cup disrupted season, despite having no players in Brazil. 2013 And with AFC Champions League finalists FC Seoul having an appalling start to the season; the stage was open for an attack-minded and rhythmic Jeonbuk to win the league title at a canter.
The return of coach Choi Kang-hee, following his sacking from his role as South Korean national team coach, has returned the success that Jeonbuk were used to under his previous tutelage from 2005-2011. The team won their first league titles and the AFC Champions League during Choi’s first reign as coach. So this season’s K League title has been sweet redemption for the much-maligned coach after his lumbering spell in charge of the national team.
Choi, the predecessor to World Cup coach Hong Myung-bo, contentiously refused to pick any non-K League players for the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, much to the exasperation of star midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung. Ki was consequently lambasted by the Korean FA for speaking out of turn in a society that holds Confucius values so highly. In Choi’s final game in charge, a drab 1-0 defeat at home to Iran, previous quarrels with the Iranian manager, Carlos Queiroz, saw the former Real Madrid coach give a pompous fist pump gesture to the infuriated and enraged Choi.
The revitalised 35 year-old former Middlesbrough striker Lee Dong-Gook currently, and has done all season, leads the K-League 13 goals. Not a record-breaker, but his goal-scoring form has seen him earn a recall to the national side and consequently earn his 100th cap, while also scoring a brace in South Korea’s 3-1 friendly victory of Venezuela, the nation’s first victory in six months.
It caps a great year for Australian centre back Alex Wilkinson, whom despite in his own words feeling “gutted” about exiting the World Cup at the group stage by his own admission his inclusion in the three games against Spain, Chile and the Netherlands would have come as a surprise to him having previously being overlooked for the position in the national team back four. But it was his form for Jeonbuk that has produced the league’s meanest defence, conceding just 21 goals, which helped catapult the Sydney native into the World Cup starting eleven.
In a much-disrupted 2014 K League Classic season, which unlike its name has probably not been a classic, Jeonbuk have dominated from start to finish.
Still there have been moments to cherish including some unusually high-scoring fixtures. The K League Classic has a long held reputation for being one of the lowest scoring leagues in the world, in fact it is found at a lowly 238 out of 298 in the list of leagues with an average of 2.24 goals a game. So when the news of the likes of Jeju United 6- 2 Jeonnam Dragams and Jeonnam Dragons 4-3 Sangju results filtered through to the fans there was collective gasp of joy. There has also been an improvement on attendances this season, mostly dependant on how high a league position the team possessed.
However, the undoubted highlight, and of world news worthiness, came just last week. With the league titled wrapped up in the trophy cabinet Jeonju, home of Jeonbuk; the champions had the cheek to try one or two things they wouldn’t normally do in the 90 minutes.
The infamous 2005 disasterous penalty kick involving Thierry Henry and Robert Pires and its perhaps lesser-known among young fans, but successful version of Cruyff’s in 1982 was recreated in Jeonbuk’s 1-0 win against early-season frontrunners, and last season’s holders. Pohang Steelers. To rub salt into what has to be one of the saltiest wounds you can come by, the penalty kick was as typical of the refereeing standard of the league a diabolical decision. Nevertheless a necessary one for all us to sit back and enjoy Jeonbuk’s Brazilians Leonardo and Kaio recreate flamboyant history.
The moment of rarity has put the final cherry on top what has been an excellent league campaign by the 2014 K League champions: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motor.