Jeonbuk Hyundai’s goal is still there.
The end of the 2023 season is in sight. There are only two games left in the final round. Some teams are already in position. Ulsan Hyundai clinched their second consecutive league title, while FC Seoul and Daejeon Hana Citizens will finish the season in seventh and eighth place, respectively, regardless of the outcome of their remaining matches.
Of course, there are still teams that are yet to be ranked. At the bottom, Suwon FC, Gangwon FC, and Suwon Samsung are in a tight relegation battle. At the top, Gwangju FC, Jeonbuk, Incheon United, and Daegu FC are in a season-long battle for a spot in next year’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Champions League (ACL).
The match between Jeonbuk and Incheon in the 36th round of the Hana OneQ K League 1 2023 could have a major impact on the race for an ACL spot. A win for Jeonbuk would allow them to overtake Incheon and close the gap on Gwangju, while a win for Incheon would allow them to leapfrog Jeonbuk into fourth place with three points. This season, the fourth place finisher in K League 1 will likely receive an ACL2 ticket, so Jeonbuk went into the game with the goal of defending their fourth place and Incheon with the goal of taking it away.
However, both teams were too tired to play at full strength, and the result was a 1-1 draw. Both Jeonbuk and Incheon were coming off of FA Cup and ACL matches, so their players’ stamina was low. Jeonbuk had played all the way to the FA Cup final against Pohang, and Incheon had lost a number of their starters to injury, so the physical demands on the roster were even greater. The suddenly cold wind also hardened the players’ bodies.
Jeonbuk, in particular, was mentally exhausted. Last week, Jeonbuk was labeled as “irrelevant for the first time in 10 years. They lost in the FA Cup final, where they were aiming to win the title for the second consecutive season, and they also lost in the ACL against Ryan City. After losing back-to-back important games, Jeonbuk returned to the league with their status confirmed and their stamina drained.
It was a confluence of bad things, but that didn’t mean the season was over for Jeonbuk. Jeonbuk will have to hold on to fourth place and fight for third by the end of the season. If they can’t make it to next season without an ACL, it will be even harder for Jeonbuk to erase the stain on their name this season.
In a post-match interview, Jae-yong Park shared his team’s determination. “After the ACL game, the coach and veteran brothers like (Hong) Jeong-ho and (Kim) Jin-soo held the center well. Jung-ho said, ‘It’s not over yet, we still have a long way to go. Everyone has to work together. We shouldn’t take it easy,” he said. We have to accept the current situation. We think we’re not motivated, but I feel like we still are. It’s too early to give up,” he said.
The next match against Gwangju is crucial. “I think the players have had a good rest and we need to meet Gwangju with a fresh mind. Again, it’s too early to give up. All the players will try to show a better performance against Gwangju. We want to rebound with a win.”
Dan Petrescu also emphasized the importance of the match against Gwangju. “We need to win for whatever reason,” he said in the post-match 토토 press conference. Of the two remaining games, the home game against Gwangju is the most important. Gwangju has always been a tricky team. We will prepare thoroughly and well this time,” he said.