Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix turned in yet another mediocre performance, as they tasted defeat in their final game of the season. But if truth be told, Sunday's effort was about par for the course on a season that's seen them win only 3 games from 28, scoring a paltry 17 goals and conceding a 43. Both sides came into the encounter with different reasons for needing the points. Ulsan, twice K-League champions, were looking to maintain the good form that has seen them take a place in the Asian Champions League play-off positions. Gwangju, on the other hand, were chasing a victory that would keep them off bottom position in the table; a feat they managed to "achieve" despite losing, with Daegu's inept showing at Chunnam Dragons (2-1) meaning they took this season's wooden spoon.
Gwangju started brightly enough, penning Ulsan back in their own half for the majority of the opening exchanges and their early endeavour was rewarded with the opening goal on only 12 minutes. Cho Yong-Tae rose to meet a cross and knocked it past Korean international goalkeeper Kim Young-Kwang. Gwangju's coach and supporters will have been disappointed that their team's impetus was maintained so briefly. Only 7 minutes later, Ulsan were level. Paraguayan striker Jose Maria Ortigoza (a promising attacker, on loan from Club Sol de America in his homeland and who made his international debut earlier this year), latched onto a forward ball, beat the defender and rifled in a shot from a narrow angle. Kim Jee-Hyuk, in the Gwangju goal, got his gloves, but only enough to parry it into his own net. It was a fortuitous goal, but highlighted the lethal form Ortigoza has been in of late. Second top scorer in the K-League for the season with 17 (as many as the entire Gwangju team have mustered), he finished the league season with 7 goals in his final 6 games.
Proceedings were scrappy up until half time, with neither side wanting to seize the initiative, a pattern that continued into the second period. In the 54th minute, though, Ortigoza pounced again for the goal of the game. Played in by a midfielder he received the ball at the edge of the area, held off a couple of Sangmu defenders, before firing low into the bottom corner of the hapless Kim's goal. At 2-1, it never looked as though Gwangju were going to get back into it. The players looked disinterested and demotivated and Ulsan were happy to knock it around, letting the soldiers chase their shadows. It was a disappointing end to what's ostensibly the club's final K-League season.
The newly formed Gwangju FC launched their website last month(http://www.gwangju-fc.com/ - Korean only) and an official foundation ceremony is mooted for December, at which stage they hope to be accepted into the K-League as the 16th member, competing as of 2011. It has been suggested that they will be allowed special dispensation (as Gangwon were a few years back) to select players from this year's draft to flesh out their squad. They were previously said to be adopting the moniker "Gwangju Rayers" (supposedly because "ray" suggests imagery of light beams - a futuristic image that correlates with the growing city of Gwangju, and of course relates to Gwangju being the City of Light), but this has been put back for review (apparently due to some controversy over a local ray fish delicacy and the propensity of Koreans outside of the province to refer to Jeolla natives in derogatory terms related to the ray fish).
54-year-old Choi Man-Hee has been appointed as head coach and there is optimism that Gwangju will be able to shed the label of "whipping boys". The prospect of a citizen team frees the coach to select the players he wants, not necessarily soldiers. It also creates the possibility of strengthening yearly and not building again from scratch once the players finish their military service. The potential to recruit international players, such as the hugely impressive Ortigoza, could also result in a welcome boost to attendances at the World Cup Stadium.
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