South Korea shows way forward for Premier League as football returns

Jonathan Veal, PA
PA Media: Sport

The Premier League got a glimpse of what the future might hold after football finally returned with the start of the South Korean K-League on Friday.

It was football, but just not as we know it as reigning champions Jeonbuk Motors beat 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.

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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 boss 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.

If ‘Project Restart’ gets the go-ahead, which could be on Monday, then this is what the Premier League might look like in the immediate future.

Never has there been so much interest in the South Korean league, but news of its start has prompted broadcasters from around the world to snap up rights, with the game shown live on the BBC website in this country.

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.

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