“Were these players this good?”
Exclamations were heard among the media watching the Hana OneQ K League 2023 Round 29 match between Gwangju FC and Ulsan Hyundai at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan on March 3.
Promoted Gwangju, who competed in the second division until last season, put the defending champions and season leaders Ulsan under pressure on the day and came away with a 2-0 victory.
Gwangju, who applied intense forward pressure in line with coach Lee Jeong-hyo’s promise to “press,” took a two-goal lead early in the second half with neat offensive and defensive transitions.
Ulsan played a ‘total war’. At the start of the second half, Ulsan introduced Uhm Won-sang, who had just returned from injury, and then Lee In-jong-gyu, Kim Cheong-yong, Kim Tae-hwan, and Bojanic took to the field to launch a fierce offense, but the opponent’s goal was not opened.
Compared to these ‘candidates’ who came on in the second half, the Gwangju squad that took the field paled in comparison.
Gwangju’s ace, Uhm Ji Sung, was called up to the U23 national team and did not play. Heo Yul and Asani have accumulated cautions, and Timo, the “core of the defense,” is still recovering from injury.
With so many key players missing, the lineup was essentially the same as last season, when the team was competing in the second division, but it was still good enough to beat one of the best teams in the league.
In particular, Gwangju’s defense, consisting of Lee Sun-min, Ahn Young-gyu, Aaron, and Doo Hyun-seok, was the same lineup that faced the second division last season.
The secret was the ‘growth’ of the players. Lee Kun-hee, who scored the first goal of the game, has been performing as well as he did last season, even in the higher-level first division.
After scoring six goals in 15 games in the 2022 season, Lee has scored four goals in 17 appearances this season. She has recorded 12 shots, four of which have found the back of the net.
Born in 1994, Lee is pushing 30 and is having the best season of her career so far.
In the 2022 season, he was hailed as a key player in Gwangju’s promotion with his prolific play in the midfield, but this season he has become a different player, expanding his radius to all areas of the backline.
Instead of playing in the midfield, which is his main position, he often plays as a defender.
On this day, he played fullback. He switched positions to the point where it was hard to tell if he was playing left or right fullback, shutting down the opposing offense that boasted a lot of firepower.
In particular, when Ulsan’s Kim Min-hyuk launched a counterattack in first-half stoppage time, he had a chance to shoot with his right foot in the penalty area, but Lee Soon-min, who was following him, blocked it with his body.
In the 35th minute, Ulsan’s attack was thwarted by a speed race with K-League’s “representative Junjok” Uhm Won-sang, who followed a roving pass from Bako into the back area.
Lee, who was recently named to the national team for the first time in his career, credited Gwangju for his growth.
The tactically tight organization of Gwangju allows him to play to his strengths on the field.
“As a team, we prepare together, and there are many promised moves. “No matter what position I play, I just need to focus on my role in an organized situation,” he said. “That’s what all the players say. That’s why we can produce good results even in unfamiliar positions.”
Coach Lee Jung-hyo cited “tactical execution” as a key factor in the team’s growth.
“Doo Hyun-seok and Lee Soon-min moved to the center and played multiple roles. Our team often plays in different positions (than before), so they seem to know what to do when they naturally move to that position,” he said, adding, “Our tactical understanding is getting better.”
“No matter which team we play, the soccer we want to play is always the same,” he said, adding, “We want to score goals, and we want to show it on the field with the whole team’s commitment and strength.”
Gwangju captain Ahn Young-gyu’s “promise” is also gradually becoming a reality. In January, Ahn announced a “seal-breaking” season with the club, saying, “We will meet teams that think we are weak and show them.
At the time, Ahn chose Ulsan as the team he wanted to face the most. “They won the first division and we won the second division. I want to play against them and feel that we have become a better team,” he said.
Gwangju won the K-League 2 title last season and also had the fewest goals conceded (32). There were few expectations that Gwangju’s defense, led by Ahn Young-gyu, would show the same “salty defense” in the first division.
With 28 goals conceded in 29 games this season, Gwangju is second in fewest goals allowed after Jeonbuk Hyundai (25).
Halfway through the season, the team is currently in third place (12 wins, 9 draws, 8 losses – 45 points). Gwangju is unbeaten in nine games (4 wins, 5 draws) and hasn’t lost in over two months, last playing against Ulsan (0-1) on July 2.스포츠토토
With their 12th win, Gwangju also set a new club record under Lee Jung-hyo. It surpassed the previous record of 11 wins set in 2016 during the K League Classic era.