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Gyeongnam thrives in K League 1

Apr 03,2018
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Gyeongnam FC, in red and black, during the team’s K League 1 match against Sangju Sangmu FC at Changwon Football Stadium in South Gyeongsang on March 4. [YONHAP]
Gyeongnam FC, fresh off its promotion to the K League 1, is creating a sensation early as they find themselves atop the top Korean football league standings.

Gyeongnam, led by head coach Kim Jong-boo, notched their fourth-straight win to start the 2018 season in the K League 1 after beating Gangwon FC, 3-1, Sunday on the road. Kim’s side is the only among the 12 K League 1 teams with a perfect record after four matches.

Kim previously said his side’s goal is to survive in the K League 1. Although there are still 34 matches left in the season, Gyeongnam is off to an impressive start toward that goal.

Gyeongnam earned its promotion to the first division after taking the second division K League 2 title last year. It was their first return to the top flight since 2014.

While many thought Gyeongnam would struggle in the first division, from the start they are turning heads with their solid offensive and defensive performances.

Gyeongnam scored 11 goals in the last four matches ? the best among 12 clubs so far ? thanks to their striker Marcos Vinicius Amaral Alves. The 23-year-old Brazilian, commonly known as Marcao, is now the league’s leading scorer with six goals in three matches.

Marcao was the top scorer and the MVP of the K League 2 last year after netting 22 goals in 32 matches. Marcao’s hot form last season apparently hasn’t cooled down as he is showing superb touches around the net.

Marcao became the only second man to net a hat-trick in the opening match of the K League. In Gyeongnam’s season opener against Sangju Sangmu on March 4, Marcao scored three goals to lead Gyeongnam to a 3-1 victory and made another story by getting ejected due to hard fouls.

Marcao missed Gyeongnam’s next match against Jeju United, but kept his scoring touch alive by netting one goal against Jeonnam Dragons and grabbing a brace against Gangwon.

Marcao’s Brazilian compatriot Guilherme Ferreira Pinto, commonly known as Negueba, is also a big contributor in Gyeongnam’s attack. Negueba has bagged two goals and two assists so far this season.

Gyeongnam’s defense has been also impressive. Their back-four has so far conceded only three goals, ties for fewest among 12 clubs with Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Jeju.

Gyeongnam can extend their winning streak to five on Saturday when they host 11th-placed Daegu FC. Their head coach Kim will return to the bench to guide his players after his three-match suspension. Kim received the ban after the league opener due to an excessive outburst directed at a referee.

Football pundits expect that Gyeongnam will face more daunting challenges from April 11 when they meet defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Jeonbuk, looking for their sixth league title, are currently third in the league.

After Jeonbuk, Gyeongnam will face the Pohang Steelers on April 15. Pohang are only two points behind Gyeongnam after they collected three wins and one draw.

Yonhap