When the referee blew the final whistle that indicated the end of the match, all players and coaches with the sky blue crest on their jerseys and coats ran into the field and celebrated the victory. It was the moment when Daegu FC won their first ever Korean FA Cup trophy. It was a perfect way to say goodbye to their beloved home, Daegu Stadium. A few days before the final, all the spotlights were on Gyeongnam FC, that claimed the second place in K League 1 in their inaugural season at the top flight.
Now it will be the debut year in the AFC Champions League for both Daegu and Gyeongnam.
Daegu FC was a team far from being in a continental competition level. After spending three years in the K League Challenge (current K League 2), they managed to bounce back to the top flight in 2016 under the guidance of Hyun-jun Son. The first season after the promotion was not easy, forced the resignation of manager Son. Daegu's choice was raising the Brazilian coach, Andre Luiz Alves Santos, to interim head coach spot. Andre managed to get back the Skyblues to the right track, finished 8th and avoided relegation in 2017. Decent results in the second half of the season led to Andre’s contract renewal, becoming the official head coach of Daegu.
The club experienced a hard time during the first half of the 2018 season because of the failure of their two new Brazilian forwards, Caion and Jean Carlos. The club rooted at the bottom of the table during the almost entire half of the season and decided to replace them with another Brazilians, Edgar Silva and Ze Roberto. Edgar, the former Buriram United and Brazil U-20 national team striker, synergised well with Daegu’s non-replaceable midfielder Cesinha. From that on, Daegu started their comeback. They managed to stay in the top tier by finishing 7th and won the Korean FA Cup by upsetting Ulsan Hyundai, the winner of the previous year’s event, in an aggregate of 5:1.
Years ago, Gyeongnam was in a tragic situation. During the period under Jun-Pyo Hong, the club's owner and the governor of Gyeongsangnam province, and Jong-bok Ahn, the club's director, the team was surrounded by many scandals. Governor Hong didn’t take much care of Gyeongnam and even tried to dissolve the team. He continuously criticized Gyeongnam as the ‘tax black hole’, furthermore he attacked the whole league for "not being entertaining compared to the baseball league." Director Ahn is known as “Korean Moggi.” Like the former Juventus director Luciano Moggi, Ahn also tried to rig games by giving bribes to several referees. He was sentenced to 18 months, and Gyeongnam got a 10-point deduction at the beginning of 2016 season.
No one expected a second-tier team to secure a spot for AFC Champions League, but it happened. ‘Mission impossible’ became possible because of the effort from a capable and humble man, Jong-Boo Kim. Appointed in 2016, the season when Gyeongnam received the points deduction, he won the K League Challenge only one year after his appointment. For three years, the team has been recovered and rebuilt. Brazilian striker Marcos Vinicius, also known as Marcão, took a huge part in Gyeongnam’s voyage. Marcão was the top scorer in both 2017 K League Challenge and 2018 K League 1, scoring 42 goals in 52 matches in a red shirt.
Now both teams faced several challenges. Gyeongnam’s Marcão was transferred to the Chinese Super League side Hebei Fortune. Daegu kicks off the new season in their new home, DGB Daegu Bank Park. Most importantly, it's their first-ever campaign. Until that moment, it seems like it’s not a big concern for both teams so far.
Daegu thrashed Keisuke Honda’s Melbourne Victory by 3:1 and grabbed their first-ever win. They defeated two-time AFC Champions League winner Guangzhou Evergrande at their new home.
Gyeongnam is having a hard time compared to Daegu, tied with Marouane Fellaini and Graziano Pelle’s Shandong Luneng by 2:2 and grabbed a draw against Johor Darul Ta'zim, a newbie from Malaysia, at Sultan Ibrahim Stadium.
Not a bad start for both Daegu and Gyeongnam, now it’s time to see how far they can go this year.