“It’s harder than in the military.” Even the 13-year veteran was sweating…and that’s how the bloody relegation fight ended.

Thirteen-year professional veteran Yoon Beom-garam (33-Suwon FC) breathed a sigh of relief after the “Battle of Destiny” against Busan I-Park at Suwon Sports Complex on Sept. 9. “It was a tougher season than when I was in the army. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in such a difficult situation in my professional life for more than 10 years,” he said, and the pressure of the relegation battle was clearly felt. Earlier, Suwon FC coach Kim Do-gyun, 46, sat on the ground in tears after his team dramatically stayed up with a 5-2 victory in the second leg of the relegation playoffs to win 6-4 on aggregate. The “greatest relegation battle of all time” ended just like that.

The last to smile were the ‘first division duo’ Suwon FC and Gangwon. Suwon FC faced relegation after coming from behind to lose the first leg 2-1 and conceding an early goal in the second leg, but their ‘no-holds-barred attacking football’ started to work in the second half. The team scored five goals, including one in extra time, to turn the tide and confirm their stay in the ‘put in a lot and eat a lot’ Suwon FC colors. Kim said, “I thought we had to hold on for three years when we came up to the first division (in 2021). The third season was the most difficult. The players, the club family, and the fans all had a hard time. I felt very sorry for them. At the same time, I was grateful. I think those thoughts made me cry.” “As the season went on, we often lost games we should have won and tied games we should have tied. Organizationally, it was disappointing,” he reflected. “Today, our players were very motivated to play. We talked about taking it one goal at a time. Lee Young-jae’s goal to send the game into overtime and Lee Kwang-hyuk’s goal to spread Busan out were the main reasons.”

At the same time, Gangneung Sports Complex hosted the K League’s 10th-ranked team, Gangwon, and K League 2 playoff winners, Gimpo. The two teams were unable to score a single goal in the 135 minutes between the first and second halves of the game, creating a tense atmosphere. After Gangwon’s Gabriel opened the scoring in the fifth minute of the second half with a sharp mid-range shot, Gimpo’s Cho Sung-kwon quickly brought the game back to even eight minutes later in the 13th minute. After ‘Gimpo Ace’ Lewis was sent off in the 24th minute for ‘unruly behavior’ using his elbow, Gabriel converted a cross from Hwang Moon-ki in the 30th minute. Gangwon, who fought a turbulent relegation battle during the season that saw the departure of key striker Yang Hyun-joon (Celtic) and a managerial change from Choi Yong-soo to Yoon Jung-hwan, staged a stay-up ceremony in front of their home fans. The team conceded just one goal in its last five games, and strikers such as Kim Dae-won, Lee Jung-hyeop, and Gabriel broke their long silence to score goals. “It was my first time in charge during the season, so it was difficult. There was a lot of criticism, but I’m grateful to the fans who believed in us until today.” 무지개토토

Of the bottom three teams in the first division who were in contention to stay up until the final game of the regular season, only Suwon Samsung suffered a relegation ending. Suwon was relegated automatically for the first time in its history after finishing last, unable to beat Gangwon in the final regular season game. Busan, a traditional team that had been on the verge of promotion for four years, and Gimpo, an up-and-coming team that made it to the relegation playoffs just two years after turning professional, fought to the end but couldn’t get over the hump.

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