SEOUL-- The two best teams in South Korean football's top division will collide for the final time this season Saturday, with one club trying to stay on course for history and the other looking for a payback.
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will host Ulsan Hyundai FC in a pivotal K League 1 match at 7 p.m. Saturday at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul.
They're in a virtual tie for first place at 67 points apiece, with Jeonbuk staying ahead for now thanks to their tiebreak edge in goals scored, 62 to 57, with four matches remaining this season.
For the third straight year, the K League 1 title will come down to Jeonbuk and Ulsan. Daegu FC sit in a distant third with 49 points and have no chance of catching either of the teams above them.
In each of the past two years, Jeonbuk slipped past Ulsan late in the season for the championship. Jeonbuk are now trying to become the first K League club ever to win five consecutive titles.
Ulsan have the dubious record of nine runner-up finishes, and they're chasing their first title since 2005.
They've met three times so far this season. Ulsan beat Jeonbuk 4-2 in May, and the two teams had a pair of scoreless draws too. In the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champion League last month, Ulsan prevailed over Jeonbuk 3-2.
Both clubs have no other trophy to play for. Ulsan, in particular, were eliminated in the semifinals at both the AFC Champions League and the Korean FA Cup in a span of a week last month, as one-promising bid for a treble, or winning three major trophies in one season, evaporated.
Ulsan are also dealing with significant injuries. Defender Dave Bulthuis is sidelined with a hamstring injury, as is Ulsan's leading scorer Lee Dong-jun. The entire team is still trying to pick up the pieces after three consecutive losses late last month: at the AFC Champions League, the FA Cup and the K League.
Ulsan still have an enviable depth in their midfield, with national team-caliber players Lee Dong-gyeong and Won Du-jae in the mix.
Jeonbuk are mostly healthy, and they boast two of the league's top scorers in Gustavo and Stanislav Iljutcenko, who are tied for third overall with 14 goals apiece. Iljutcenko snapped a nine-game scoreless drought with a brace last Saturday against Suwon Samsung Bluewings.
With Jeonbuk and Ulsan having left others to play for third place, Daegu FC will try to hang on to that spot on Saturday against Suwon FC.
Both clubs are winless in their past four: Daegu with two draws and two losses, and Suwon FC with one draw and three defeats.
Jeju United, breathing down Daegu's neck at 48 points, will host Suwon Samsung Bluewings on Saturday.
Also on the weekend, Gangwon FC will play their first match under caretaker coach Park Hyo-jin, following the dismissal of former boss Kim Byung-soo on Thursday.
Heading into Sunday's match against Incheon United, Gangwon FC are in 11th place, five points up on last-place Gwangju FC with three to play. The worst team in the K League 1 will be automatically relegated to the K League 2 for next year, while the 11th-place team will fall to the promotion/relegation playoff against a playoff winner from the K League 2.
Gwangju FC took a vicious blow to their hopes of avoiding relegation Wednesday, when they blew a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 to FC Seoul. They're going up against Pohang Steelers on Sunday.
Source: Yonhap News Agency