(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 12-15, 17-18)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) -- Daegu FC defeated Jeonnam Dragons 1-0 on Wednesday to draw the first blood in the final of the largest national football tournament.
Bruno Lamas converted a 26th-minute penalty to help Daegu claim the opening leg of the FA Cup final at Gwangyang Football Stadium in Gwangyang, some 420 kilometers south of Seoul, in South Jeolla Province.
Daegu, based in the K League 1, will host the return leg on Dec. 11 at DGB Daegu Bank Park in Daegu, about 300 kilometers southeast of the capital city.
The aggregate score will determine the champion, with the away goals rule in effect.
Daegu's first and only FA Cup title to date came in 2018.
Jeonnam, playing out of the second-tier K League 2, are going for their fourth FA Cup title, having earlier won it in 1997, 2006 and 2007. They're also trying to become the first second division team to lift the FA Cup.
The winner of this tournament will qualify for next year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. No K League 2 club has ever made it to the top continental event.
Daegu forward Cesinha drew the penalty midway through the first half, when Jeonnam midfielder Kim Tae-hyun tackled him hard from behind deep in the box. Lamas stepped up and easily beat goalkeeper Park Jun-huk to the bottom right corner.
Jeonnam kept pushing for an equalizer, and had a couple of great looks in the second half. In the 48th, forward Lee Jong-ho fanned on a rebound after Daegu goalkeeper Choi Young-eun failed to grab a head from Park Chan-yong.
Lee came close again in the 71st, but his volley from goalmouth was stopped by Choi.
Park Jun-huk kept Jeonnam in the game with some key saves, but his teammates couldn't unlock Daegu's defense.
Daegu head coach Lee Byung-geun said his team played just the type of a conservative brand of football necessary in an away match.
"In a big match like this, a small mistake can be the difference between a win and a loss, and we stayed out of trouble for the most part," Lee said. "Jeonnam are such a defensively sound team that we had some difficulties on the offensive end. Another goal or two would have made our life easier going into the next leg."
Still, Daegu are in the driver's seat, and they have a chance to lift the trophy in front of home fans.
"If our players let their guard down and start playing for themselves instead of the team, then we'll run into problems," the coach said. "Jeonnam will come out prepared, and so we'll have to stay on our toes."
Jeonnam knocked off three K League 1 clubs en route to the final, and now they'll need more magic next month to make FA Cup history.
Lee's Jeonnam counterpart, Jeon Kyeong-joon, said the final is far from over.
"We couldn't execute some of the things we'd prepared," Jeon said. "We'll have to figure out reasons why things didn't go our way today. We'll take our time to regroup and try to rally away from home."