Gwangju FC, the “promotion team” of professional soccer’s K League 1, is dreaming of a fairytale like Leicester City’s miraculous win in the English Premier League (EPL). The team has been making waves in the league since its first match in the Final A, taking down first-place Ulsan Hyundai in the first leg.
After winning the K League 2 title last year, Gwangju coach Lee Jung-hyo said, “I heard that Leicester City had a 0.02% chance of winning the title in 2016. I thought we could do it one day, too.” In the 2015-2016 season, Leicester City reached the top of the EPL for the first time in its 132-year history. After narrowly avoiding relegation the previous season, the Foxes’ victory gave hope and inspiration to many soccer fans.
Gwangju has been the Korean version of Leicester City in the K League 1 this year. They approached the season with a challenger’s attitude and finished in third place in the Final A. In the 34th round match against Ulsan at the Gwangju Football Stadium on the 21st, the team won 1-0 thanks to a dramatic goal by Lee Kun-hee to move to 57 points. Gwangju became the only team to beat Ulsan twice this year, following a 2-0 win last month.스포츠토토
Gwangju FC players celebrate after their 1-0 win against Ulsan Hyundai during the K League 1 Final A 34th round match at Gwangju Football Stadium on Nov. 21. Courtesy of the Korea Football Association
Gwangju has its sights set on greater heights as a team. “Every week, we prepare for the upcoming game,” says captain Ahn Young-gyu. “All the players are not satisfied with their current performance and want to grow. I think that eagerness is their strength.” “Everyone is new to the first division, but we promised to keep challenging ourselves ahead of this season. I told them that if they challenge themselves courageously, they will reach their target ranking.”
Gwangju has four games left in the Final A. It is in a position to chase the second-place Pohang Steelers (59 points). The club’s chances of qualifying for the first-ever Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) have also improved. Winning the title over leader Ulsan (67 points) is unrealistic, but a runner-up finish is not out of the question.
Historically, the best first-year finish for a promoted team in professional soccer is runner-up. In 2018, Gyeongnam FC finished runner-up in Final A. Gwangju will face Incheon United, Daegu FC, Jeonbuk Hyundai, and Pohang in the remaining matches.
Meanwhile, in Final B, 12th-ranked Suwon Samsung (25 points) fell to the brink after losing 0-2 to Jeju United on Nov. 22. Without a win, Suwon is likely to be automatically relegated to K League 2. Gangwon FC (11th place, 26 points) also had a bad day, losing 1-0 to FC Seoul.