SEOUL, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) — The two best clubs in the South Korean football league this year will square off in the final of the largest annual national tournament.
Ulsan Hyundai FC and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors advanced to the final of the Korea Football Association (FA) Cup on Wednesday. In the semifinals, Ulsan edged out Pohang Steelers 4-3 in the penalty shootout, while Jeonbuk beat Seongnam FC 1-0.
It set up a tantalizing duel between clubs who are both going for a “double,” or winning two major trophies in one season.
Ulsan are currently leading the top-division K League 1 with 50 points with five matches remaining. Jeonbuk are right behind them at 48 points.
The FA Cup final will be played in the home-and-away series, with Ulsan as the host on Nov. 4 and then Jeonbuk playing at home on Nov. 7. The aggregate score will determine the champion, with the away goals rule in effect.
Ulsan won their only FA Cup in 2017 and finished in second place the following year. Jeonbuk are going for their their fourth FA Cup and first since 2005. This will be their first final appearance since 2013.
Ulsan and Pohang finished regulation tied at 1-1 at Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, 415 kilometers southeast of Seoul, and they couldn’t solve the deadlock after 30 minutes of extra time.
In the shootout, two goalkeepers stole the show, with Ulsan’s Jo Hyeon-woo and Pohang’s Kang Hyeon-mu each making huge saves.
The teams each sent eight kickers. Ulsan’s No. 8, Hong Chul, scored with a soft shot that caught Kang off guard, and Jo ended the long match by stoning Song Min-kyu’s attempt to extend the shootout.
Pohang took the lead in the 12th minute on an own goal by Ulsan midfielder Kim Tae-hwan.
Pressured by Song Min-kyu while controlling the ball near the halfway line, Kim hurriedly passed the ball back to goalkeeper Jo in an attempt to regroup. Jo was standing at the top of the box, clearly not anticipating such a hard back pass. Jo couldn’t recover in time as the ball bounced into the empty net.
It wasn’t until the 53rd that Ulsan tied the score, and they caught a lucky break of their own. Hong Chul’s free kick from just outside the box caromed off the right goal post and landed right at Kim In-sung, the Johnny on the spot who calmly sent the rebound into the far corner to make it a 1-1 match.
Pohang’s Stanislav Iljutcenko nearly broke the tie in the 82nd with a header from point-blank range, but Jo made a spectacular, match-saving stop right at the line. The play was so close it had to be reviewed by the video assistant referee before the initial call on the field was confirmed.
Pohang controlled the run of play in extra time, though their edge in ball possession didn’t lead to any goal. Then in the shootout, Pohang’s last four shooters either missed the net or were denied by Jo.
Earlier in the evening, Gustavo’s 10th-minute goal stood as the winner for Jeonbuk at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul.
Jeonbuk had been winless against Seongnam in their two meetings in the K League 1, with a draw and a loss. Gustavo and his partner in crime on offense, Mo Barrow, made sure Jeonbuk would have the upper hand this time.
With the match just about 10 minutes old, Barrow controlled the ball on the left wing and threaded a pass to Gustavo, who split two defenders and beat goalkeeper Jeon Jong-hyeok with a left-footed strike.
In the 58th, Jeonbuk thought they had doubled the lead, when Gustavo controlled a rebound after Son Jun-ho’s shot hit the post and put it into the net, only to have it called back on an offside.
But Jeonbuk didn’t need any more goals. Seongnam barely mounted a response, and even the second-half subs Tomislav Kis and Jamshid Iskanderov couldn’t breathe life into Seongnam’s stagnant offense.