Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

K-League offers glimpse into future as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors start title defence with win over Suwon Bluewings

There were no supporters allowed, face masks were required for those not playing and players were restricted from talking to the match officials

South Korea's K-League got underway on Friday, offering a glimpse of what the future of club football around the world might soon hold amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors beat FA Cup holders Suwon Bluewings 1-0 in an empty World Cup Stadium in Jeonju in the season opener.

There were no supporters allowed, face masks were required for those not playing - including substitutes, managers and ball boys - and players were restricted from talking to the match officials, shaking hands and spitting excessively.

It was a sterile atmosphere in the first half, with the players' shouts echoing in the empty 42,000-seater arena.

But with Jeonbuk chasing a goal in the second half, artificial crowd noise was pumped through the public address system, which did at least give some sense of atmosphere.

When Lee Dong-Gook headed home the winner in the 84th minute, Jeonbuk's players celebrated with a hand signal to give thanks to their country's health workers, with more crowd noise and music blaring out.

At the full-time whistle Jeonbuk manager Jose Morais, formerly Jose Mourinho's assistant, did not shake the hands of his opposite number or staff, instead settling on elbow and fist bumps.

While a prominent league in Asia, there has never before been such widespread global interest in Korea's K-League, with broadcasters from around the world snapping up rights.

The league was due to begin in February, but was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, with fewer than 11,000 confirmed cases and 256 deaths, authorities in South Korea have deemed it safe to start the 2020 season, albeit it with a reduced schedule. Over 1,000 players have been tested and all came back negative.

There was some sense of normality as there was VAR drama in the second half, when the hosts were denied what appeared a clear penalty after the ball struck the hand of Suwon defender Doneil Henry.

Jeonbuk have been champions for the last three seasons and were the dominant team throughout, missing several chances to make it a comfortable evening.

Suwon were holding on for the final 15 minutes after Terry Antonis was shown a straight red card for a horror challenge and their resistance was broken with six minutes remaining.

The 41-year-old Lee, whose career began in 1998, headed home a corner to ensure his side began with three points.

Similar measures as seen in this game are expected to be in place when the German Bundesliga resumes next weekend.

Updated: May 8, 2020 04:55 PM

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