Get to know our opponents: Jeonnam Dragons

As our debut AFC Champions League campaign draws closer and closer, it’s time to take a look at another of our Group G opposition.

Jeonnam Dragons were the unlikely winner of South Korea’s national Cup, as they currently are playing in the country’s second division. They normally play out of the Gwangyang Football Stadium, otherwise aptly known as the ‘Dragon Dungeon’.

Jeonnam may be a familiar name to some; they were a staple of the K League 1 (K1) from their inception in 1994 up until their relegation from South Korea’s top-flight in 2018, winning the national Cup competition four times.

The club’s name comes from its province rather than the city it’s based in – Gwangyang – with the South Jeolla Province also known as Jeonnam.

Prior to their relegation from the K1, Jeonnam had been Asian Champions League semi-regulars thanks to their frequent Cup successes. City isn’t even their first Australian opposition, having been grouped with Melbourne Victory back in 2008, playing out a 1-1 draw before suffering a 2-0 loss.

There’s been a distinct Australian connection with Jeonnam over the years too, with several familiar names including Tomislav Mrcela, James Donachie, Robbie Cornthwaite and even the Central Coast Mariners’ own Matt Simon turning out for the Dragons in the past 10 years.

Since dropping down to the K-League 2 (K2), the Dragons haven’t come close to returning to South Korea’s elite, finishing sixth twice and fourth once out of 10 teams over the past three years.

Under the management of Jeon Kyung-jun, who took over in 2019, Jeonnam have become a relatively low-scoring but defensively strong outfit, conceding the fewest goals in the league over the past two seasons combined despite their mid-table finishes.

Ironically, it would be their offence that would secure them entry into the Asian Champions League, pulling off an incredible come-from-behind win, decided on away goals, over K1 powerhouse Daegu FC in the 2021 Korean FA Cup. The Dragons found themselves 0-1 down after the first leg, which had been played at home, but secured an incredible 3-4 away win as defence was thrown out the window in an uncharacteristically high-scoring display. Even crazier, Jeonnam netted the winning goal in the 84th minute despite having a player sent off seven minutes prior.

Interestingly, Balotelli was ripping it up in the K2 for Jeonnam last year… no, not THAT Balotelli. We’re talking about the Dragons’ only foreigner at present, Brazilian forward Jonathan Balotelli. He scored 11 goals and provided three assists in the K2 in 2021.

Jeonnam Dragons may be far from the heights of their days as a fixture of the K1, but the character demonstrated in that unlikely victory against Daegu FC has shown that Jeon Kyung-jun’s side aren’t to be underestimated, and the Melbourne City boys will have to be at their best to break down that staunch defence.