By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean professional football will have its earliest start to a season in 2022 to accommodate participation in the FIFA World Cup in November, the league office announced Thursday.
The 2022 K League 1 season will kick off Feb. 19, the fastest opening to a season by eight days. The 2010 and 2021 campaigns both began Feb. 27.
The dozen teams in the top flight will play 38 matches. They will first play each other three times and after 33 contests, the top six and the bottom six clubs will be split into Final A and Final B. Teams will then play five more matches within their own groups to finish the season.
The K League said the first portion of the season will conclude on Sept. 18. The fixtures for the split phase of the season will be determined later, and the season will conclude before the start of the Nov. 21-Dec. 18 World Cup in Qatar. It will be the first World Cup to be played in the November-December period.
South Korea are currently playing in the final round of the Asian qualification for the World Cup. They are poised to grab one of two automatic berths out of Group A, along with Iran, with four matches to play.
The 2022 season opener will pit five-time defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors against Suwon FC at 2 p.m. on Feb. 19. Jeonbuk will play the host at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul.
This match will present a showdown of two FC Barcelona youth academy products: Paik Seung-ho for Jeonbuk and Lee Seung-woo for Suwon FC.
Also on the opening day, Daegu FC will host Seoul FC at DGB Daegu Bank Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, at 4:30 p.m. Incheon United and Suwon Samsung Bluewings will clash at Incheon Football Stadium in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of the capital, also at 4:30 p.m.
The rest of the league will get into action on Feb. 20: Jeju United against Pohang Steelers at 2 p.m., Gangwon FC versus Seongnam FC at 2 p.m. and Ulsan Hyundai FC against newly promoted Gimcheon Sangmu at 4:30 p.m.
The league will take a brief hiatus from April 15 to May 1 to accommodate teams' participation in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. Jeonbuk, Ulsan and Daegu will represent the K League 1 in the continental event.
There will also be a midsummer break from Aug. 19-28.