Jeonju: As football fans around the world prepare to tune in to the opening match of the 2020 K League season on Friday, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors defender Hong Jeong-ho has admitted the lack of action elsewhere offers the perfect opportunity to show the quality of the Korean game.
The domestic competition in Korea Republic belatedly kicks off at the weekend, with defending K League champions Jeonbuk hosting FA Cup winners Suwon Samsung Bluewings at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in the traditional curtain-raiser to the league season on Friday evening.
And, with the vast majority of other leagues across the globe currently on hiatus due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Korea Republic international believes the match offers the ideal chance to highlight the strength of the game in the East Asian country.
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“I really appreciate that we can promote both Korea Republic and the K League,” admitted Hong, who was part of Jeonbuk’s 2018 and 2019 title-winning campaigns.
“We have the chance to let football fans from all around the world know that there are many good players in our country if we perform to our best on the pitch.
“Due to the coronavirus I feel even more grateful that I can play football and I realise the importance of the game and of the fans.”
The K League was initially scheduled to get underway on the last weekend of February but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all domestic action was postponed until further notice.
Two months on, the 12 sides will finally begin their campaigns behind closed doors this weekend, with Friday’s clash between Jeonbuk and Suwon followed by a further five fixtures over Saturday and Sunday.
“We have done everything we can to prepare as best as possible for this match and we want to win it for our fans who can’t come to the stadium,” said the 30-year-old centre-back.
“Our team has a lot of fans and I think it will be weird without them there to support us, so we will just need to do our best to focus on the game.
“It will be my first time in an empty stadium and maybe it makes it harder to concentrate, but it will be very important to listen to our teammates to know what’s going on around us.”
Jose Morais' side won the 2019 title – their third league championship in a row and seventh since 2009 – in dramatic fashion, capitalising on Ulsan Hyundai’s final-day slip-up against Pohang Steelers by defeating Gangwon to leapfrog table-toppers Ulsan at the last.
While Jeonbuk’s 2020 league season was halted before it got going, the two-time Continental champions did play their first two AFC Champions League games prior to the competition’s postponement, picking up just one point from fixtures against Yokohama F. Marinos and Sydney FC.
There may have been no competitive games in Korea over the past two months, meanwhile, but teams have been able to train together. On Saturday, Jeonbuk continued their preparations for Friday’s opener with a 3-1 friendly victory against Daejeon Citizen.
“It’s true that we played badly in our first two AFC Champions League games, but we have prepared well since then and we expect a different performance against Suwon,” insisted the former FC Augsburg and Jiangsu FC player.
“Of course, it’s been hard to keep my match fitness up when the league was delayed without a fixed date to restart, but I have been able to keep in good condition by training with the team.
“I’ve also tried to remain focused on the challenge ahead by watching re-runs of football games.”
While opponents Suwon had a disappointing league campaign in 2019, finishing in the bottom half, they ended on a high after winning the FA Cup for a record fifth time and will be desperate for an improved performance this time round.
The two-time Continental champions also boast last seasons’s 20-goal top scorer Adam Taggart within their ranks, and Hong’s key task on Friday will be to nullify the threat of the prolific Australian.
“Last season Taggart scored against us and he is a very dangerous player,” added Hong.
“This year I think Suwon are a much stronger team because of the new players they have brought in, so we will have to be tactically prepared for them and our defenders will have to be aware of their attack.
“But my aim this season is to do my best so Jeonbuk can win four consecutive K League titles and perform well in the AFC Champions League.”
Photos: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
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