While the A-League is expected to return within the next month or so, it is unlikely that we will experience the ‘full’ version of Australian football straight away.
Last Friday night saw the K League put in front of a global audience for the first time.
This meant that it was a chance for the two Australian Suwon Bluewings players Terry Antonis and Adam Taggart to impress with a reported three million eyeballs watching this match.
Channels included YouTube also playing a live feed with the Fox Sports A-League commentator Simon Hill describing the action, the BBC streaming the game in the UK, and closer to home, Optus Sport made the game available to its 700,000 subscribers, consequently making it a perfect occasion for these two Socceroos to showcase their talent.
However, after 75 minutes, both players departed the game thinking about what could have been. In the space of a minute, Antonis was shown a straight red for a reckless challenge on Jeonbuk’s number 28, Son Jun-ho. Then as the action was stopped, Adam Taggart was substituted while Antonis was still protesting about the decision. This took away his chance to open his account for the season and build on last season’s tally of 20 goals.
Jun-ho, the man who Antonis fouled, was probably the man of the match as he exuded positional excellence and rarely misplaced a pass as he sat in front of his back four. With Taggart often dropping deep and Antonis competing with him, the Aussies would have found his running of the game a very frustrating experience. His calmness restricted the supply to Taggart and meant that Antonis got less of the ball, which may have been a factor in him losing his head in this challenge.
Despite the Australian duo spending the first three minutes chasing shadows as Jeonbuk familiarised themselves with the ball, Antonis eventually saw his first touch being a tackle where he won the ball, which initiated a spell of play where the Suwon side were able to pass it around, albeit with less panache than their opponents.
Then in the third minute, Taggart got his first opportunity, which he will be disappointed with, as a scuffed deflected shot trickled easily into the gloves of Jeonbuk keeper Bum-keun. Two minutes later, they combined in Suwon’s best move of the match as Taggart chased down an overhit cross from the left flank, retrieved the ball before playing a one-two with the former Victory man, whereby Antonis released the ball for the former Brisbane striker to run on to. But instead of taking the ball, Taggart unfortunately took out the Korean defender as he tried to bring it down, and received a yellow card for his efforts.
For the next ten minutes, the game was an arm wrestle, and the former Victory man was able to showcase some of his defensive and positional abilities. However, during this spell he did make one attacking run into the box, which ended with him intercepting a cross that was on course for Taggart to run onto, ending a Suwon attack.
Taggart did, however, have the chance to return the favour. After Antonis made amends by winning the ball and releasing the right-sided wing-back with a fantastic left-footed pass, but a heavy touch from Taggart ruined this foray towards the Jeonbuk goal.
Around the half-hour mark, Taggart had a one on one with the keeper after being put through with a defence-splitting through ball by number 77 from Jeonbuk Seung-boom, but could only produce a weak effort, which the keeper blocked. The linesman’s flag had gone up anyway.
Their time on the ball then diminished for the next 35 minutes either side of halftime, before they both departed, ultimately disappointing many Australian viewers back at home.
The game was settled by veteran captain Lee Dong-gook scoring from a corner. Jose Mourinho’s former assistant opted to start with 22-year-old Cho Kyu-seong to lead the line, but after the young man couldn’t deliver, he eventually brought on the 41-year-old, who was able to be in the right place at the right time, out-jumping the otherwise impenetrable Canadian centre back for Suwon making his debut.
Unfortunately for Australian fans, all of Antonis’ weaknesses were on show here: his tendency to rely too much on his left foot, his lack of patience on the ball and of course his rash tackling. However, as somebody who watched him at Melbourne Victory under Kevin Muscat, I hope he can show the K League his strengths in future games, such as his ability time his run to arrive late to score goals or his long range-diagonal passing. But he will, of course, be suspended for the next game.
Meanwhile, Taggart has another 21 games to retain his golden boot, starting next week against another title contender Ulsan. But he will need to be sharper than this.
Antonis was not the only former Melbourne Victory midfielder who received a card this weekend, as Rashid Mahazi was booked in the 92nd minute of his dogged display in Incheon’s 0-0 draw with the fancied Daegu FC, but he was able to complete the 90 minutes.
Another Australian who recently moved to the K League, Brandon O’Neill, experienced a frustrating afternoon on the bench as his Pohang Steelers side gained an 2-0 opening-day victory against Busan thanks to a towering header from their six-foot-two striker Stanislav Iljutcenko, and a penalty from their slightly smaller five-foot-nine Serbian Aleksandar Palocevic.
Finishing the review of the quintet of Australians plying their trade in the K League on a positive note, Jason Davidson produced a typically attacking display down his favoured left side, where he was involved in two of the four goals that the team of the weekend Ulsan Hyundai scored in their 4-0 demolition of the Korean Military side, Samju.
Samju Sangmu is made up of players completing their national service and this year they can call on Moon Seon-min, the man who created the most goals in the 2019 K League while at Jeonbuk before his forced move to Sangju to complete his duties. Davidson’s rampant Ulsan made a statement to the rest of the league, not only with the scoreline but with the nature of the goals.
Doing the rounds on Twitter is the side’s first goal, which was a devastating seven-pass move starting with the goalkeeper and ending with the equally attacking opposite number of Davidson, their right back Tae-Hwan Kim, who penetrated the Samju defence to thread a pass to Junior Negao, who finished off the move with a coolly slotted shot past the keeper from an angle.
This sets up the Davidson versus Taggart clash nicely for next Sunday, which based on the opening weekend, could be a bloodbath for Suwon.
Results from week one: Jeonbuk 1 Suwon 0, Ulsan 4 Sanju 0, Incheon 0 Daegu 0, Gwangju 0 Seongnam 2, Pohang 2 Busan 0, Gangwon 3 Seoul 1.
The fake crowd noise was a welcome addition to this new COVID world that will live in and was a welcome break from the shouting from the players. This weekend, the K League is competing with the Bundesliga on TV, and while it’s clearly not on the same level as the big five European leagues, the chance to see Socceroos on show is a worthy starter to the main course of German football.