Pohang advances to round of 16 in ACL group stage unbeaten

Pohang Steelers remain unbeaten in group play.

The Pohang Steelers drew 1-1 away to Wuhan Sanjeon in their 2023-2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) Group J matchday 6 at the Wuhan Sports Center Stadium in Wuhan, China on Saturday (KST).

The result gives Pohang five wins and one draw in Group J, which also includes Wuhan, Urawa Reds (Japan) and Hanoi FC (Vietnam). Despite not recording a win in the group stage, they head into the round of 16 unbeaten.

Wuhan, on the other hand, dropped to the bottom of the group with one win, two draws and three losses. In the match between Hanoi and Urawa at the same time, Hanoi won 2-1 to drop to third place.

Pohang lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Lee Ho-jae, Yoon Jae-woon, Kang Heon-je, Kim In-sung, Han Chan-hee, Kim Jun-ho, Shim Sang-min, Lee Kyu-baek, Ha Chang-rae, Park Seung-wook, and Yoon Pyong-guk.

Wuhan countered with a 3-4-3 formation. Davidson, Yakubu, Xie Fengfei, Zhang Zifeng, Zhang Xiaobin, Yan Dinghao, Deng Hanwen, Park Ji-soo, Liu Yiming, He Guan, and Liu Dianzhuo.

Pohang had already secured a spot in the round of 16 by topping their group, so they were able to take it easy. The roster included a number of backup players who needed a chance to play in place of the starters.

The first half saw an unexpected start from Wuhan, but Pohang didn’t let up easily. The first half ended 0-0 without a goal.

The ‘0’ silence was broken in the second half. Pohang scored an unfortunate own goal. In the 10th minute of the second half, central defender Lee Kyu-baek made a mistake while blocking an opponent’s cross from the right side, resulting in an own goal.

Lee Kyu-baek was disappointed. Born in 2004, this was his debut for Pohang and his ACL debut.

Pohang then pulled out their substitutions. Choi Hyun-woong, Shin Kwang-hoon, and Cho Jae-hoon replaced Lee Kyu-baek, Kim Jun-ho, and Yoo Jae-woon.

With the momentum in their favor, Pohang pushed Wuhan hard. They gained possession from the back and harassed their opponents. In the 27th minute of the second half, Park Seung-wook’s cross from the right side was met by frontline Lee Ho-jae, who broke through the defense to score, but the goal was ruled offside.

Pohang, who had been pounding away, equalized the game. In the 31st minute, on a corner kick, Han Chan-hee’s cross was headed home by Lee Ho-jae through a defensive battle to tie the game at 1-1.

Wuhan caught a break. In the 37th minute, Park Ji-soo, who was trying to advance with the ball, went down with his thigh. The medical staff was quickly called in, and Wuhan immediately brought on Run Hang to help stabilize the game.

Pohang’s momentum continued until the final minutes of the game. At the end of the game, Cho had a chance to beat the goalkeeper with the ball after the opponent’s corner kick, but the pass from the side was blocked by the returning defense. On the counterattack that immediately followed, Cho had another chance to create a decisive chance, but his shot was well wide of the goal.

The match ended as it was, and Pohang remained unbeaten in the group stage despite not recording a win.

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