(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 15-16, 20-21)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Oct. 31 (Yonhap) — Busan IPark have been relegated to the second-tier competition in South Korean club football for next season.
By finishing in last place among 12 clubs in the K League 1 on Saturday with a 2-1 loss to Seongnam FC, Busan will ply their trade in the K League 2 in 2021. They had 25 points from five wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.
Incheon United, who began Saturday in last place but ended up in 11th place after defeating FC Seoul 1-0. They collected 27 points from seven wins, six draws and 14 losses.
Seongnam finished in 10th with 28 points from seven wins, seven draws and 13 losses.
Busan just earned a promotion from the K League 2 for this season, after toiling there for four seasons from 2016 to 2019.
Entering Saturday, Busan, Seongnam and Incheon were the only three teams in danger of relegation.
Incheon were in last place with 24 points, while Busan and Seongnam were one point ahead of them. Busan remained ahead of Seongnam in the table thanks to their 24-22 edge in goals scored, the first tiebreaker.
Seongnam hosted Busan at Tancheon Sports Complex in Seongnam, just south of Seoul, while Incheon were visiting FC Seoul at Seoul World Cup Stadium in the capital city. Both matches kicked off at 3 p.m. Incheon were in a must-win situation, though Busan and Seongnam could stay put with a draw as long as Incheon didn’t win.
First goals in both matches were scored almost simultaneously. Lee Dong-jun put Busan on the board in the 31st minute, and then just seconds later in Seoul, Elias Aguilar scored for Incheon.
If the matches had ended there, then Seongnam would have been relegated.
Instead, Seongnam battled back in the second half to secure at least another season with the big boys in the K League 1.
First, it was 19-year-old forward Hong Si-soo netting the equalizer in the 65th minute. It was also Hong’s first professional goal.
Then in the 77th, defensive back Ma Sang-hoon scored the go-ahead goal. Incheon stayed ahead of FC Seoul in the capital. That meant Busan were now facing relegation.
Four minutes of injury time were awarded in both matches. Busan kept knocking on the door but couldn’t get one into the net.
Seongnam’s first-year boss, Kim Nam-il, was reduced to tears after his team closed out the nervy victory — a rare show of emotion for the former hard-nosed midfielder.
“We’ve been through so much this year, and the players stayed patient and resilient,” Kim said. “We were able to feed off the energy of our fans today for this come-from-behind victory. We’ll try to be better next year for our supporters.”
Incheon-Seoul matched dragged on in the final moments, as tempers flared amid some hard fouls, but Incheon held on for dear life and a spot in the K League 1 for next year.
Over recent seasons, Incheon built a reputation as a great escape artist, a team that always found ways to barely avoid relegation at the last possible moments.
This year, they started the season with a 15-match winless skid, and Jo Sung-hwan took over from Lim Wan-sup as new head coach in August. Incheon had zero wins, five draws and nine losses at the time of Jo’s hiring, and went 7-1-5 to close out the season.
Jo said he felt “blessed” to be at the helm of the tough-minded club that still has room to grow.
“I know a lot of people felt we’d be relegated, but I think we silenced those skeptics with each passing match,” said Jo, whose Incheon won the final two matches of the season. “The final five matches were especially stressful, and it felt like we were living on the edge the whole time. I didn’t even want to think about the possibility of relegation.”