The 2012 Peace Cup gets underway tomorrow morning, as Sunderland take on Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma of the South Korean K-League in the tournament's opener. Having launched in 2003, the Peace Cup is now up for grabs for the fifth time and Seongnam, ever present in the tournament thus far, are once again in the mix.
With that in mind, just as we brought you previews of potential opponents in Hamburg and Groningen, we thought it would be a good idea to get the low-down on what is essentially the home side for the tournament of the next few days.
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are, appropriately, based in the city of Seongnam. Just under thirty kilometres away from the South Korean capital, Seongnam is a satellite city of Seoul and the tenth largest city in the country.
Its current football team was formed just twenty-three years ago, in 1989, initially having been founded as Ilhwa Chunma FC and residing in Seoul itself. In 1996, with the Korean Football Association keen to spread football further into the country, Ilhwa Chunma and two other Seoul-based clubs were evicted from the capital; Ilhwa Chunma moved some fifty miles south, taking up residence in Cheonan.
That move coincided with a downturn in the club's form, and just four years later the decision was made to move the club to Seongnam, and the current incarnation of the club was born. They play at the Tancheon Sports Complex, a ground which holds roughly 20,000 spectators, of which just over 16,000 are seated. That said, their current average attendance barely creeps over 3,500.
Recent History & Success
Despite their short time in existence and multiple moves, Seongnam are arguably South Korea's most successful side ever. The club boasts a record seven K-League titles - South Korea's equivalent of the Premier League - and have finished as runners-up on three other occasions.
They have won three consecutive league championships twice, from 1993 to 1995 and then from 2001 to 2003, and their last victorious season came six years ago in 2006. Despite this being the joint longest title drought in the club's short history, they are in no danger or being usurped for some time yet - after them, the next four most successful sides are tied on four titles each.
Further afield, Seongnam also boast two successful Asian Champions League campaigns. A Lee Tae-Hong goal in extra time was enough to defeat Saudi Arabian side Al-Nasr in 1995 back when the club was still based in the capital, while their most recent cup glory came in 2010 with a 3-1 win in the final over Zob Ahan FC of Iran. The club has also won the Korean League Cup three times, and the Korean FA Cup twice - indeed, they won the latter for the second time just last season.
In 2010, following their second Asian Champions League win, Seongnam were invited to the FIFA Club World Cup, held in the United Arab Emirates. The South Korean finished in fourth place there, knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual winners Inter Milan, then managed by Rafael Benitez.
The Gaffer: Shin Tae-Yong
Given the lack of focus given to South Korean football in the Western world, it is unlikely that Shin Tae-Yong is a name that rings many bells outside of Asia. Even so, he is a man whose pedigree is more than proven in his homeland.
Capped twenty-one times for his country as an attacking midfielder, Shin called time on his playing career in 2005, suffering from an ankle problem while at Queensland Roar in Australia. There he was offered an assistant manager role, a post which he held until 2008.
The following year he returned home, taking over his current role as manager of Seongnam. Guiding the club to continental success in just his second year in charge, he was moved to espouse views that - to English ears - bring about comparisons with the late Brian Clough. 'I was pretty arrogant as a player,' he said, 'but now having won the Asian title, I must be pretty great after all.'
In a world away from the English Premier League, where foreign players are allowed without limit, the KFA restricts its sides to a maximum of four non-Korean players each - of which only three can be from non-AFC nations.
As a result, Seongnam's squad is built primarily from youth team products; right back Kim Sung-Hwan currently captains the side at the age of twenty-five, having been promoted into the first-team in 2009.
Profligate in front of goal this term, scoring only twenty goals in twenty-two leagues games and failing to score in four outings in June, Seongnam have been heavily reliant on one man to keep them in goals. Éverton Santos has seven goals in fourteen league games, and the Brazilian is joined by Columbian attacking midfielder Javier Reina as the club's only two foreign players.
One To Watch: Éverton Santos
Clearly then, given Shin Tae-Yong's side's troubles in front of goal, the Brazilian front man is the one to watch tomorrow. Santos began his career in Brazil, ultimately moving to top side Corinthians in 2007. Whilst there, his goals record was poor, yet he still showed enough to earn a move to Paris St-Germain in the summer of 2008.
He remained contracted to the French side until the end of last year, but his time there was unhappy. Making just one first-team appearance, Santos spent most of his contract out on loan, ultimately winding up at Seongnam in 2011. He notched one in five for the Koreans, enough for manager Shin to sign him on a permanent basis for roughly €75,000 in March.
This season he has notched ten goals in all competitions, a record which translates to a goal roughly every 110 minutes he's on the field. His three goals in this year's Champions League were important in helping Seongnam to the top of their group, though he could do little to stop them going out in the second round to Uzbekistani side FC Bunyodkor.
A Tough Test For Sunderland?
Despite their omnipresence in the Peace Cup and their impressive domestic history, Seongnam are probably the weakest side in this year's tournament. Currently tenth in the K-League, hopes of an eighth league title are all but gone; leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are twenty points ahead of Seongnam, having played a game less.
That said, the Koreans will test the fitness of Martin O'Neill's men. Right in the midst of their domestic season, Seongnam's players will be far from short on match fitness. In Éverton Santos they have tricky player who once entertained the interests of one of France's premier clubs.
Furthermore, Shin Tae-Yong and his men have a point to prove. Not only have they been knocked out of the Champions League, but last month's defeat to Ulsan Hyundai ended their dreams of retaining the Korean FA Cup.