Written for Gwangju Blog
The World Cup Stadium in Gwangju isn’t full at the best of times, so you can almost understand the paucity of supporters for Gwangju Sangmu’s K-League game on Sunday against Suwon Bluewings. After all, before kick-off, Sangmu were lying second from bottom. They’d scored thirteen goals in twenty games and recorded a paltry 3 victories. Talk of a citizen team to replace the current military set-up will no doubt be welcomed, but for now, we must make do with the soldiers! But that’s not to say a trip to watch them in action isn’t worthwhile. For fans of “the beautiful game” in Gwangju, it’s a chance to see professional soccer at a decent level. For those yet to awaken to its splendor, it’s a nice day out, in comfortable surroundings.
Suwon arrived at the Guus Hiddink Stadium as strong favorites, seven places ahead of Sangmu in the league table and one of the traditional powerhouses of Korean soccer, having won the K-League four times and the Asian Champions League twice. The difference between the two sets of supporters was marked: the Suwon followers cheered as only those who have tasted success can, consistent and choreographed. In contrast, the Gwangju support was tame and non-expectant, although one section of the crowd was impressively vocal. However, the cagy way in which the visitors started Sunday’s game was no indication as to a bridge in quality. Indeed, Gwangju’s stifling tactics proved to be more than a match for Suwon for much of the first half.
The play was scrappy. Any form of attack was strictly of the Route One variety, over the top. But just when it looked as though the spoils were to be shared at half time, Hong Soon-Hak broke free of his marker and was fouled in the area, with Gwangju conceding a penalty in the forty third minute. Japanese international and former Boca Juniors and Eintracht Frankfurt striker Naohiro Takahara stepped up and made no mistake from twelve yards
With the deadlock broken, both teams emerged for the second period a little more adventurously. Gwangju’s captain Choi Sung-Kuk went close with a volley from just outside the box, which was a harbinger for more involvement in the game from the influential forward. Suwon pushed on looking for a second, leaving gaps at the back, gaps the Sangmu forward line failed to capitalize on until late on. Gwangju’s Korean World Cup star, Kim Jung-Woo had a quiet game, but it was his mazy run past a couple of Bluewings defenders that led to the equalizer, after he was felled in the area.
The referee didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot, and up stepped that man Choi again to fire past the keeper, high into the roof of the net. It was a goal Gwangju’s second half performance arguably deserved, but the military team could have snatched the victory as the game crept towards stoppage time. Choi again made space for himself in the Suwon penalty area, but was closed down just as he was about to pull the trigger. A powerful header drew a great save from Kang-Jin Ha in the visitors’ goal, but they held on for a point.
A point, though, is of little use to Gwangju. They are still hovering a single place from the foot of the table in what has been a disappointing season. Here is hoping the talk of a citizen team comes to fruition. This city deserves a quality, committed soccer team.