BUSAN, South Korea – When Han Ji-ho scored a 34th minute goal in the last regular season match of the season last year against Gangwon, it gave the IPark their first playoff spot in six years in the K League. It capped off a vast improvement for the club, led by first year coach Ahn Ik-soo.
That victory led to a new confidence in the players that used to be missing around Busan for years, and instilled a team chemistry who understand that the team comes first before the individual. The IPark finished with a 13 win, 7 draw and 10 loss season which culminated in being eliminated in the quarterfinals by Suwon.
The 2012 campaign for the Busan IPark is shaping up to be another strong year with improvements added to the defense, as well as an improved attack and a clubhouse mixed with veteran leadership and high-energy youth.
Returning offensively are leading scorer Lim Sang-hyub, who tied for the club lead with nine goals. He will be joined by Brazilian Fagner, whose second half emergence brought a new energy to the IPark in 2011 with six goals in 11 appearances, as well as fellow countryman Jose Mota, who joins the squad from Norwegian club Molde FK. The addition of Bang Seung-hwan from FC Seoul is also expected to help the offense, to help replace the loss of Yang Dong-hyun who went to the military, and Han Sang-woon who moved to Seongnam.
Lim will help control the midfield along with veteran Kim Han-yoon and youngster Park Jong-woo and Choi Kwang-hee. The addition of Jeon Jae-ho from Incheon will also help shore up the midfield. The IPark have also added Aussie footballer of the year Matt McKay from Rangers to the fold, and his consistency should also shore up to midfield considerably.
The IPark look to become more consistent defensively, as they allowed 43 goals last season. Brazilian Eder is back, with Kim Chang-soo, Lee Jung-ho and Hwang Jae-hoon, Park Yong-ho and Lee Kyung-ryul taking turns manning the back.
Korean OIympic team keeper Lee Bum-young looks to improve as his confidence has become more noticeable with his large role with the Olympic squad, while veteran Jeon Sang-wook also provides a steady presence and mentor for up-and-coming Lee.
The IPark look to have a successful season in 2012, and with their new additions and raising confidence on the pitch, there might be some hardware brought back to Busan come fall.
The league will feature a new split system this year in hopes of making the league more competitive and to root out corruption. The league's 16 clubs will be "split" into two halves, eight teams apiece, based on their records after 30 games.
They will then play seven more games against each other within their half. The two worst clubs in the lower half will be relegated to the second division in 2013. With that, the teams will each play 44 regular season games, up from 30 in 2011 according to Yonhap News.
The IPark play at their home games at the Busan Asiad Stadium in Sajik-dong, and tickets are 10,000 won for adults, 6,000 won for students and 2,000 won for children.