Half of football’s top league are unbeaten with no first favorites

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Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the five-time defending champion of South Korea’s top soccer league, was about ten 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 draw 1-1 at home in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

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

This season has seen the earliest start in league history, with the February 19 kick-off set to ensure the campaign concludes ahead of the FIFA World Cup in November. The short offseason – the 2020 season ended Dec. 5 – combined with below-average pitch quality in chilly February conditions conspired to lower the level of play across the league.

Jeonbuk was content to join five others with an unbeaten 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 the players don’t seem to be in great shape and the pitch conditions aren’t great. There are quite a few frozen points.”

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

“I didn’t notice much separation between the top teams and the lower level teams,” added the coach. “It’s going to take total effort in every game to get wins.”

Daegu, with one draw and one loss, is one of four teams without a win so far.

But Alexandre Gama, Daegu’s new bench manager, opted to take the “glass half full” after picking up his first point. Daegue lost to FC Seoul 2-0 in the season opener on February 19.

“Unlike the first game, we played well today. We should have won this game,” Gama said. “Jeonbuk have highly skilled players who can turn a scoring chance into a goal. We conceded the first goal but our players fought until the end without giving up. This is a positive sign.”

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

And the games will come fast and furious. Game Week 3 begins with four games on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday. Suwon FC will face Ulsan Hyundai FC, always one of the best teams in the league, while Seongnam FC will host FC Seoul, who are currently first on goal difference against Gimcheon Sangmu FC. Suwon FC and Seongnam FC could face a three-game losing streak before they realize what has hit them.

Suwon FC are still waiting for midfielder Lee Seung-woo, their prized winter acquisition, to start playing until their pre-season hype.

The former 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 start the second half of a 1-0 loss to Jeonbuk. In Saturday’s game against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Lee entered the game in the 20th minute, with head coach Kim Do-kyun also replacing Brazilian midfielder Murilo.

The duo failed to produce the spark Kim was hoping for as Suwon FC fell 1-0. But the coach came to Lee’s defense afterwards.

“He’s an explosive player, but he’s not 100% physically yet,” Kim said. “But he is getting better and better. He needs to play more minutes. I will try to play him within his ability.” (Yonhap)

By Kim Young-won ([email protected])

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