Fading goals…end-of-season keyword is ‘motivation’

Professional soccer’s K League 1 took a break last week due to the Korean Football Association (FA) Cup. With the Pohang Steelers lifting their fifth FA Cup title, some clubs’ goals for the remainder of the season were erased or changed one by one.

The hero of the 2023 Hana OneQ FA Cup Final, which concluded on April 4, was league runner-up Pohang (60 points). Pohang defeated Jeju United on penalties in the semifinals on Day 1 and then came from behind to beat Jeonbuk Hyundai 4-2 in the final.

In addition to winning their fifth FA Cup title, Pohang also secured a spot in the 2024-25 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Club Competition. Winners of the FA Cup are awarded a ticket to the AFC Champions League regardless of league results.

With three league games remaining, Pohang is still chasing third-place Gwangju FC (57 points), fourth-place Jeonbuk (53 points), and fifth-place Incheon (52 points). While the title is out of reach, the team can take some of the pressure off in the league by qualifying for the ACL. However, it is unclear whether the club will qualify for the AFC Champions League Elite (ACLE), which will be reorganized from the 2024-25 season, or the second-tier ACL2. The general consensus in soccer circles is that the ACLE will qualify. In this case, the fourth-place finisher after 35 rounds will qualify for the ACL2.

Meanwhile, after Pohang’s victory, the goals for the rest of the season have changed slightly for the teams that played the FA Cup schedule. For Jeonbuk and Incheon, an ‘uneventful season’ has been confirmed. Based on the Round 35 standings, both teams need to finish in third place to qualify for the ACLE, meaning they need to win at least two of their three games and wait for their opponents to lose. While it’s comforting to know that fourth place means a spot in ACL2, it’s still a slippery slope.

All eyes will be on the managers of each club to see how they manage their squads at a time when goals are slowly disappearing or changing. “Honestly, it’s not easy to motivate the players (at this point),” admitted Daegu FC coach Choi Won-kwon, who watched from the sidelines as Ulsan Hyundai clinched the league title on March 29. Sixth-ranked Daegu (49 points) can mathematically finish third, but it’s a tough ask. 무지개토토 도메인

Final B Jeju is out of the running for the ACL. After 35 rounds, Jeju finished ninth in the league (39 points) and underperformed expectations. That’s why the team went all out to win this year’s FA Cup, running a strong rotation in the last 35 rounds. However, they were brought to their knees by Pohang.

As for Jeju, they’re looking for a good finish for next year. With just one win away from retention, Jeju’s acting head coach Chung Joguk encouraged his players after the FA Cup semifinal loss, saying, “The players have a lot of work to do until the next game and, in the long run, until next season.” Captain Choi Young-joon echoed the sentiment, saying, “It’s important to finish the year well to prepare for 2024.”

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