The Pohang Steelers barely had time to bask in the glow of being crowned FA Cup champions. Just four days later, they were back at the Pohang Steel Yard to face traditional Japanese J-League powerhouse Urawa Reds in the fourth home match of Group J of the 2023-2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL).
Pohang head coach Kim Ki-dong was faced with a dilemma: all-out war or a planned rotation. The final choice was the latter. He couldn’t afford to give 100 percent. The team had played seven games in the last three weeks, including the FA Cup quarterfinal against Jeju United away from home on Jan. 1, a 120-minute battle that went to extra time and penalties.
Against the seasoned Urawa, Pohang touted its ‘young blood’. They started four players under the age of 22, with Lee Ho-jae up front, partnering with Hong Yun-sang and Yoon Jae-woon on the left and right wings. Kim’s son, Kim Jun-ho, was also deployed in the midfield.
Kim also had a clear message: “We are the representatives of the K League,” he said during a light warm-up with his players that morning. Let’s prove Pohang’s strength. The season is not over. We will play against Korea today. Let’s do it even if it’s hard.” The pressure was on, as Ulsan Hyundai and Incheon United had lost away games to Johor Darul Ta’zim (Malaysia) and Shandong Taishan (China), respectively, the day before.
It wasn’t easy either. The Pohang offense was out of rhythm and the defense was shaky. They withstood Urawa’s attack well, but their right flank was breached in the 36th minute. A low ball from Urawa winger Ekanit Panya was headed home by Jose Kante. 무지개토토 주소
Pohang’s bench made a bold late substitution. They brought on Zeca and Kim Jong-woo, who had scored in the FA Cup final, and it paid off in the 21st minute. Zeca converted a penalty kick awarded by the video assistant referee (VAR).
Pohang didn’t stop. With a numerical advantage due to their opponent’s sending off, they pushed forward until the very end. In the 30th minute of the second half, substitute Kim In-sung scored the winning goal in stoppage time to make it 2-1. With four straight wins and 12 points, Pohang remains at the top of the group, closest to qualifying for the round of 16 among K League teams.
Meanwhile, Jeonbuk Hyundai, who have been extremely poor this season, losing the top spot in the K League 1 to Ulsan and losing their second straight FA Cup to Pohang, continued to struggle on the international stage. A 0-2 away loss to Ryan City (Singapore) in Group F of the competition left them with two points (6) and a slim chance of finishing at the top of the standings.