Jeonbuk ‘miracle’-Seoul ‘nadir’… Final match ‘mixed fortunes’

Professional soccer’s K League 1 is divided into two groups based on performance after 33 rounds of the regular season. The split system (final round), introduced in 2012, divides the 12 clubs into Final A (1st-6th) and Final B (7th-12th) based on their performance in that round. Each team plays five head-to-head matches, one within their group, and then receives a final standings table at the end of the season.

Teams in Final A fight for the top spot during this period, while those in Final B fight to avoid the relegation zone. If you’re in Final B, you can’t finish in the top six, no matter how many points you accumulate in the remaining games.

The 2023 season of the 텍사스홀덤 K League 1 concluded on August 8 with the final match of the 33rd round of the regular season, and the groups that will compete in the final round have been determined. Jeonbuk Hyundai and Incheon United made the final push to Final A, while Jeju United joined the relegation zone that had been solidified by Suwon FC, Gangwon FC, and Suwon Samsung.

The biggest storyline of the final round was the matchup between fifth-place FC Seoul (47 points) and seventh-place Jeonbuk (46 points) after 32 rounds. Seoul needed only a tie to advance to Final A, but a 0-2 loss to Jeonbuk moved Jeonbuk into fourth place (49 points) and Seoul into seventh. The loss to Jeonbuk meant Seoul would remain in Final B for the fourth consecutive season, and after slipping to 10th place at one point earlier this season, Jeonbuk made a change in June, hiring Dan Petrescu (Romania) as head coach to save their last shred of pride. Incheon played to a goalless draw with Ulsan Hyundai on the same day to leapfrog Seoul for sixth place (48 points).

This leaves Final A with Pohang, Gwangju, Jeonbuk, Daegu, and Incheon, along with the season’s reigning champions Ulsan. They will fight for third place, with the title and a spot in next season’s Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) up for grabs.

With pre-season favorites Ulsan, Pohang, Jeonbuk, and Incheon advancing to Final A without any major upsets, it’s the meteoric rise of this season’s promoted team, Gwangju, that stands out. Gwangju has made waves with its attacking soccer under head coach Lee Jung-hyo. The third-place Gwangju (54 points) are determined to qualify for the ACL.

Final B consists of Seoul, Daejeon, Jeju, Suwon FC, Gangwon, and Suwon Samsung. As the bottom group, they will compete for survival to remain in the top tier. This season, the bottom team in K League 1 will be automatically relegated, the 11th place team will play a promotion playoff (PO) against the second place team in K League 2, and the 10th place team will play a promotion PO against the winner of the PO between the third and fifth place teams in K League 2.

In Final B, Jeju joins the relegation zone that was initially contested by Suwon FC, Gangwon, and Suwon Samsung. Jeju (35 points) hasn’t won a game in its last seven matches (one draw, six losses), putting it within striking distance of 10th-place Suwon (31 points). ‘Bottom’ Suwon Samsung (25 points) also picked up its first win under acting coach Yi Ki-hoon, cutting the gap to Gangwon (26 points) to one point. It will be interesting to see which team emerges from the chaotic relegation zone. The final round will be played on October 21, after the October A-Match break.

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