(LEAD) Giant killers in S. Korean football chasing historic title

유지호 / 2021-11-23 14:35:10
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(LEAD) football-tournament
▲ In this file photo from Oct. 27, 2021, Jang Soon-hyeok of Jeonnam Dragons (L) celebrates his goal against Ulsan Hyundai FC in the semifinals of the FA Cup football tournament at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, some 415 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

▲ In this file photo from Oct. 27, 2021, Lee Jong-ho of Jeonnam Dragons celebrates his goal against Ulsan Hyundai FC in the semifinals of the FA Cup football tournament at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, some 415 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

▲ From left: Jeonnam Dragons head coach Jeon Kyeong-joon, Jeonnam Dragons forward Lee Jong-ho, Daegu FC head coach Lee Byung-geun and Daegu FC defender Jeong Tae-wook participate in an online press conference on Nov. 23, 2021, ahead of the first leg of the FA Cup final, in this photo provided by the Korea Football Association. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

▲ In this file photo, provided by the Korea Football Association on Oct. 27, 202, Bruno Lamas of Daegu FC (2nd from R) is congratulated by teammates Jeong Tae-wook, Cesinha and Lee Jin-yong after scoring a goal against Gangwon FC during the semifinals of the FA Cup football tournament at Songam Sports Town in Chuncheon, about 85 kilometers east of Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

▲ In this file photo, provided by the Korea Football Association on Oct. 27, 202, Cesinha of Daegu FC (C) controls the ball against Gangwon FC during the semifinals of the FA Cup football tournament at Songam Sports Town in Chuncheon, 85 kilometers northeast of Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

(LEAD) football-tournament

(LEAD) Giant killers in S. Korean football chasing historic title

(ATTN: ADDS photo, comments in paras 10-13, 18-21)

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) -- The giant killers of South Korean football will try to make history at the largest national tournament starting this week.

Jeonnam Dragons of the second-tier K League 2 will take on the K League 1 club Daegu FC in the two-legged final of the FA Cup tournament. The opening leg kicks off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Jeonnam's home, Gwangyang, some 420 kilometers south of Seoul, in South Jeolla Province.

The return leg will be on Dec. 11 at DGB Daegu Bank Park in Daegu, about 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

The aggregate score will determine the champion, with the away goals rule in effect.

In their unlikely march to the final, Jeonnam took down three K League 1 clubs: Suwon FC in the round of 32, Pohang Steelers in the quarterfinals and then Ulsan Hyundai FC in the semifinals.

They're now trying to become the first second division club to win the FA Cup.

This is their fifth trip to the FA Cup final. They won it all in 1997, 2006 and 2007, and lost to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the 2003 final.

Jeonnam had the stingiest defense in the K League 2 this season, allowing the league-low 33 goals in 37 matches. They just missed out on a chance to earn promotion to the top league earlier this month, and the FA Cup is the only thing left to play for.

The winner of this tournament will qualify for next year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, and no K League 2 club has ever made it to the top continental event.

At the teams' prematch press conference Tuesday, Jeonnam head coach Jeon Kyeong-joon said his club will savor the opportunity to make history.

"This is one of our few opportunities to beat a team from the K League 1, and if we can execute our plans well, we should get the results we want in the end," Jeon said at the online presser. "First-division clubs may be more talented, and it'll be an extremely difficult match for us. But we'll try to surprise people."

Jeonnam forward Lee Jong-ho, who won an FA Cup title as a member of Ulsan Hyundai FC in 2017, said having a chance to compete at the AFC Champions League is a major source of motivation for his club.

"We all want to have a chance to showcase our talent for all of Asia," Lee said. "It will also drive up fan interest, and our club will invest more (in acquiring players)."

Daegu FC won their first and so far only FA Cup title in 2018. A win over Jeonnam will send Daegu back to the AFC Champions League for the second straight year.

Daegu are sitting in third place in the K League 1 and have won their past two matches after going winless in their previous four.

Since the start of this month, they have been playing without three players, Park Han-bin, Jeong Seung-won and Hwang Soon-min, who were suspended by the club for the remainder of the season after violating COVID-19 protocols. Photos of the three players roaming downtown Daegu streets maskless in the wee hours of Nov. 1, just after Halloween, surfaced on social media. Those who claimed to have seen the players said the three appeared to be intoxicated and were shouting obscenities.

Daegu FC apologized to fans for the players' behavior and banned them for the rest of 2021 on Nov. 2.

At Tuesday's press conference, Daegu FC head coach Lee Byung-geun said the remaining players should rally around each other against the defensive-minded Jeonnam.

"Jeonnam can play strong defense and mount quick counterattacks, so we have to be careful against their transition game," Lee said. "Jeonnam Dragons are good enough to challenge teams in the K League 1, but we want to represent our league well."

Daegu defender Jeong Tae-wook said he will try to pick the brains of his veteran teammates from the 2018 FA Cup championship squad.

"The biggest strength of our team is our cohesion on defense," Jeong said. "We've done well in that regard in recent matches, and we should be able to continue that in the FA Cup final."

(END)

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