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Half of top football league undefeated with no early front-runner

Park Kyu-min of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (L) controls the ball against Daegu FC during a K League 1 match at DGB Daegu Bank Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Sunday, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (KPFL)
Park Kyu-min of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (L) controls the ball against Daegu FC during a K League 1 match at DGB Daegu Bank Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Sunday, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (KPFL)

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the five-time defending champions in the top South Korean football league, were about a dozen minutes away from becoming the only club to win the first two matches of the 2022 season on Sunday.

Daegu FC had other ideas, as they scored in the 79th minute to eke out a 1-1 draw at home in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

That was the last game of Matchweek 2 for the 12 teams in the K League 1. And for the first time since 2016, no club has come out of the gate with two straight wins.

This season had the earliest start in league history, with the Feb. 19 opening kickoff set up to ensure the conclusion of the campaign before the FIFA World Cup in November. The short offseason -- the 2020 season ended on Dec. 5 -- combined with subpar pitch quality in cold February conditions have conspired to bring down the level of play across the league.

Jeonbuk settled for joining five others with an undefeated record of one win and one draw.

"It would have been great to become the first team with a winning streak this year," Jeonbuk head coach Kim Sang-sik said. "Throughout the league, players don't seem to be in great form, and pitch conditions aren't great. There are quite a bit of frozen spots."

Kim added that several teams had their foreign players join the squad late in training camp, which affected their preparation.

"I haven't noticed much separation between top-tier teams and bottom-tier teams," the coach added. "It's going to take an all-out effort in every game to pick up wins."

Daegu, with a draw and a loss, are one of four winless teams so far.

But Alexandre Gama, Daegu's new bench boss, chose to take the "glass half-full" outlook after picking up his first point. Daegue had lost to FC Seoul 2-0 in the season opener on Feb. 19.

"Unlike in the first match, we played well today. We should have won this game," Gama said. "Jeonbuk feature some highly skilled players who can turn one scoring opportunity into a goal. We conceded the first goal but our players battled until the end without giving up. That's a positive sign."

Of the four winless teams, Suwon FC and Seongnam FC have lost their first two matches of 2022. They also remain without a goal after two matches.

And games will come fast and furious. Matchweek 3 begins with four contests on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday. Suwon FC will go up against Ulsan Hyundai FC, consistently one of the league's best teams, while Seongnam FC will host FC Seoul, currently in first place by virtue of their goal-difference edge over Gimcheon Sangmu FC. Both Suwon FC and Seongnam FC could be staring at a three-game losing streak before they realize what hit them.

Suwon FC are still waiting for midfielder Lee Seung-woo, their prized winter acquisition, to start playing up to his preseason hype.

The one-time FC Barcelona youth prospect has come off the bench in each of the first two games. For the season opener, Lee was brought in to begin the second half of a 1-0 loss to Jeonbuk. In Saturday's game against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Lee entered the match in the 20th minute, with head coach Kim Do-kyun also subbing in Brazilian midfielder Murilo.

The duo didn't produce the spark that Kim had hoped, as Suwon FC fell 1-0. But the coach came to Lee's defense afterward.

"He is an explosive player, but he isn't 100 percent yet physically," Kim said. "But he's been getting better and better. He needs to be playing more minutes. I will try to get him to perform to his abilities." (Yonhap)



By Kim Young-won (wone0102@heraldcorp.com)
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