“Two years ago, (at this time of year), I had a headache thinking about relegation.”
Of the four K League 1 clubs challenging for the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) this year, Incheon United is the only South Korean club.
It was their first experience and they came away with a 4-2 away win over Yokohama F.Marinos, one of Japan’s J-League powerhouses. It was an upset, to say the least, but Incheon was confident. In the second round, they swept Caya Iloilo (Philippines) 4-0.
They curiously met Shandong Taishan (China), but lost 0-2 at home and 1-3 away. They couldn’t overcome Shandong coach Choi Kang-hee’s sticky soccer that plagued Incheon during his time with Jeonbuk Hyundai. It’s not that Shandong played well, it’s that Incheon fell apart.
However, they still have a chance to advance to the round of 16. They host Yokohama on the 28th. If they take this match, they can secure at least second place with nine points. With Kaya away on December 13, it’s a relatively easy matchup, so we can go all-in on Yokohama.
Of course, we also need to catch the K League 1 final against Daegu FC on December 3. So it was a good thing that they won the 37th round of the Hana OneQ K League 1 2023 Final A 3-1 against Ulsan Hyundai at the Incheon Football Stadium on the 24th.
While we still need to see the results of the second-place Pohang Steelers (60 points)-6th-place Daegu (50 points) and fourth-place Jeonbuk (54 points)-3rd-place Gwangju FC (58 points), which play on the 25th, we can at least be thankful that next season’s Asian Football Confederation Champions League Elite (ACLE) playoffs for third place, which is likely to be contested until the end, and the Champions League 2 (ACL2) berth for fourth place are in sight.
Incheon is an injury ward. Starters and veterans Lee Myung-joo and Shin Shin-ho, as well as Mugosa, Delbridge, Jerso, and Mpoku, are all out with injuries. Surprisingly, Park Seung-ho, born in 2003, scored his debut goal against Ulsan, while Hong Si-hoo, born in 2001, nicknamed “Hong Seaford,” had one goal and one assist. Midfielder Choi Woo-jin, born in 2004, who scored a goal against Gwangju FC, also started and played well.
The sequence of events leads to confidence for the game against Yokohama. An Incheon frontman said, “It’s amazing when you think about it. I think we used to worry about relegation at this time of year. Now it’s a little different. We’re thinking about advancing to the ACL, and we’re playing again.” The 180-degree turnaround is still a bit jarring.
If they beat Yokohama, it will be important for the Manila-based Kaya to have a strong fan base. Internally, the team has considered chartering a plane. However, the cost would be prohibitive. Moreover, Incheon International Airport is close by and there are many regular flights to Manila, so there is no need to charter a plane. Since the game is played on a weekday, it is not easy for fans to travel to the game unless they have the time, so it is difficult to recruit a charter. It’s all about dreaming the happiest dreams you can dream in reality.
We’ve been so blessed that we’ve created scenarios that we never thought of before. Incheon chose Bangkok, Thailand for their winter training early on. It’s the perfect place for physical training, and they’ve been there almost every year.
The problem was the duration. With training camps typically lasting three to four weeks, the ACL is a variable. If the team finishes in the top three of either Group 1 or Group 2 this season and advances to the ACL Round of 16, they will play the first and second rounds on February 13-14 and 20-21 next year. This is a significant acceleration of the season compared to previous years, which means players will have less time to rest. 아톰카지노 주소
Incheon has a lot on its plate. “We already have a plan A, B, C, and D in place. If we finish in the top four in the league and qualify for the ACLE or ACL2 next season, it doesn’t affect our winter training right away, so we can put it on the back burner. The question is whether we make it to the ACL round of 16 this season. We have a lot of different plans in place for both advancing and falling short,” he said.
“It’s fun to think about what to do if we don’t advance to the ACL Round of 16, and I’m grateful that the players are doing well. Coach Cho Sung-hwan was also impressed with the performance of the young players during the tight schedule of maintaining a good ranking in the K League 1, advancing to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, and playing the ACL at the same time, saying, “The team develops better through good faith competition with players who have already played. As a coach, I’m looking forward to next year,” he said, noting that the effect of harmonizing the old and the new is significant.
Both players and clubs see, feel, and grow through externalities. Kim Do-hyuk, the heart of Incheon, said after the 1-1 draw against Jeonbuk in the 36th round, “It’s great to play ACL. The other club’s facilities are really good. I hope we can get better too. I want to play more in the ACL,” emphasizing that participating in the ACL is a significant motivator.
No one knows how far Incheon’s run will go. At the very least, the fact that they are finishing the season on a high note is a good thing, given that the status of many clubs with ties to the Seoul metropolitan area has declined. Incheon’s gradual transformation from a team that was nicknamed the “Survival King” and was always on the verge of staying up every year has been a mystery and a surprise to its members, as well as to journalists and soccer fans alike.