The Asian Champions League (ACL) is bringing the K League 1 “Big Four” to the FA Cup. K League 1 champions Ulsan Hyundai, FA Cup winners Jeonbuk Hyundai, and K League 1’s third- and fourth-place finishers Pohang Steelers and Incheon United are finally in action. The race for the title is on.
The FA Cup is the crowning glory of Korean soccer, both professional and amateur. This year, it’s already the round of 16, the fourth round. Ten teams from K League 1, five teams from K League 2, and one team from K3 will take the stage. The fourth round of the ‘2023 Hana OneQ FA Cup’ will kick off at 7 p.m. on the 24th.
Defending champions Jeonbuk, who have won the FA Cup a record five times, will host K3’s Paju Min Football Club. It’s a showdown between professionals and amateurs. It’s not a match for the faint of heart. Crisis-ridden Jeonbuk has begun an upward curve in the K League 1, with four consecutive draws (two wins and two losses). But the best part of the FA Cup is the upsets. The Paju People’s Football Club is ready to give it their all.
Ulsan, the ‘absolute number one’ in the K League 1, will face the second-place Jeonnam Dragons at the Gwangyang Football Stadium. Two years ago, there was pain. Ulsan faced Jeonnam in the quarterfinals, but suffered a shocking 1-2 loss. Ulsan cried in vain as they went on to win the treble that year (regular season, FA Cup, and ACL). Now it’s their turn to repay the debt. Jeonnam became the first second division team to win the FA Cup. As of the 23rd, Jeonnam, ranked 10th in K League 2, is hoping for a miracle once again. 안전놀이터
Incheon, Pohang, Gwangju FC, and Gangwon FC from the K League 1 will also face Gyeongnam FC, Seongnam FC, Seoul Eland, and Gimpo FC from the K League 2. There is always a second division to catch the first. In the third round, Suwon FC and FC Seoul fell to Seoul Eland and Gimpo respectively.
Gimpo, in particular, is leading the K League 2 standings. They met Chungbuk Cheongju FC in the third round and drew 1-1 after 120 minutes of hard-fought action before winning 7-6 on penalties to narrowly make it through to the round of 32. It will be interesting to see if Gimpo can cook another first-team in their own backyard. Seongnam, Seoul Eland, and Gyeonggi, who all have home field advantage, are also formidable opponents.
There are also two matches between K League 1 teams. Suwon Samsung and Daegu FC, and Jeju United and Daejeon Hana Citizen will go head-to-head. Daegu won 1-0 away to Suwon in the K League 1 this season. Jeju, who are currently unbeaten (5 wins, 1 draw) in their last six K League 1 matches, defeated Daejeon 3-0 on March 30.
The FA Cup is a low-cost, high-efficiency competition. The winner gets one ticket to the ACL. It’s an irresistible draw.