Mahazi reflects on 'crazy' escape from K League relegation

Rashid Mahazi in action for Incheon United Source: Twitter

Australian midfielder Rashid Mahazi has opened up about his "crazy" season in Korea marred by injury, the coronavirus and an amazing escape from relegation.

Mahazi, who joined Incheon United in 2019, returned to the K League 1 club in January this year.

The Mariners managed to avoid the drop down into the second division by finishing 11th in the 12-team competition, with two points more than Busan IPark.

It was a dramatic end to the 2020 campaign, with Incheon defeating Busan 2-1 before sensationally sinking FC Seoul on the final day.

Mahazi came off the bench in both matches as his club rallied to survive and pull off a great escape.

“The season was very strange,” the 28-year-old told The World Game.

“I went back for pre-season as normal in January but the season got delayed by about two or three months because of COVID-19, so we had a really long pre-season. For me, it was a pretty rough year personally.

“I started off really well in the first game but then the next morning I woke up with a pain in my calf, which ended up being a torn calf that kept me out for a good six weeks. I then came back and played three more games, playing well again and then the same thing happened.

“I was out for about another two months and then came back for one game and re-did it again, and was out until pretty much the last two games.”

The former Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder made just seven first-team appearances because of injury, but was involved in the dramatic final two rounds.

He came on for the final 12 minutes against Busan, as Incheon held on to a slender one goal lead and grabbed a tense victory.

Mahazi even cleared the ball off the goal-line in the dying stages of the fixture as his team dug in.

“This year - I think - was even more incredible than last year,” Mahazi admitted.

“Incheon just seems to have this way of fighting their way out of relegation in the last few rounds. I could be getting the numbers wrong, but I’m almost certain by round 15 or 16 (in a 27 round season) we were 14 points behind second-last place.

“But to be fair, when the new coach came in and with the addition of a couple players, we honestly started to be a side that was really, really difficult to beat and deserved 100% to stay up.

“The Busan game was crazy-dramatic, we were down at half-time 1-0 and even if we drew, it would’ve been terrible because we had watched the game the night before and Seongnam had won.”

Heading into the final game and Incheon needed to defeat derby rivals FC Seoul to have a chance of staying up.

The emotion of the game was increased because of the death of Seoul centre-back Kim Nam-chun just a day before the match.

Mahazi was brought on for the final 28 minutes with the Blue Black a goal ahead, courtesy of a first half strike, and grimly hanging on to a place in the K League 1.

“The FC Seoul game was made extra dramatic because of the situation with the passing of one of their players the day before the game,” he said.

“So it was a very strange and emotional evening in many respects. I’m just happy for the way that it all ended, surviving and getting on the field for the last two games, because for a while there I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.”

The former Monash City, Box Hill United and Dandenong Thunder junior has now returned to Melbourne with his contract finishing at Incheon on December 31.

With the A-League season set to start in a month, Mahazi is unsure where his future lies at this point and whether a permanent return to Australia is on the cards.

“I can’t really answer that just yet, but I will probably be able to give a more direct answer in about a month or so,” he added.