“It’s a road less traveled. Our goal is to add another star to our left chest.” (Ulsan Hyundai head coach Hong Myung-bo)
As the regular season ended with Ulsan’s dominance, the atmosphere was very different from the previous Final Round media days. While Ulsan’s first opponent, Gwangju FC, vowed to be a “chili pepper squad,” the “public enemy” for most Final A teams looking to qualify for the Asian Champions League (ACL) was the Pohang Steelers, who finished second in the regular season.
The media day for the Hana OneQ K League 1 Final Round 2023, held at the Nine Tree Premier Locus Hotel in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on March 18, brought together managers and players from the six clubs that qualified for Final A (the top group) by finishing first through sixth in the regular season. The Final Round will consist of five games per group (rounds 34-38) to determine the final standings of the season.
In recent years, the tension has been palpable from the start of the media day, as the final round has seen ‘Hyundai rivals’ Ulsan and Jeonbuk Hyundai compete for the title. This year, the atmosphere was different. Jeonbuk’s slump saw them sneak into Final A (4th place – 49 points).
And defending champion Ulsan solidified the top spot with 67 points, nine points ahead of second-place Pohang (58). They also have a whopping eight-goal lead in goal difference. With one more win, Ulsan is on track to clinch the ninth division title. Ulsan opens the final round with a trip to Gwangju (3rd place, 54 points) on Nov. 21. Pohang will host sixth-place Incheon United (48 points) a day earlier on the 20th.
◇Will there be a ‘Kingmaker’ this year? Pohang-Gwangju “All the way to the end, loudly”
“Honestly, it was difficult to prepare because we had a lot of players on the national team (during the break). But it’s a situation we’ve always faced. We feel like we are fighting the world as the defending champions, and we will make good use of last year’s experience.”
Pohang head coach Kim Ki-dong was undaunted, and before taking the stage, he drew laughs from the Pohang fans in attendance by shouting “S~Tillers!” in a cheerful manner. Pohang has a history of being a “kingmaker,” denying Ulsan the title in the 2012 and 2019 finals. “We have to beat Ulsan (in the 36th round) to make a difference until the end,” Kim said. I want to go all-in against Ulsan.” Kim Seung-dae also said, “It’s hard to keep (the lead), but it’s not hard to chase. We will challenge to the end.” 메이저놀이터
Then, Ulsan’s captain Kim Ki-hee said, “It’s fun for Pohang to follow. We will do our best to bear the weight of the crown.”