Pohang Steelers head coach Kim Ki-dong breathed a sigh of relief after a thrilling come-from-behind win and early qualification for the round of 16.
Pohang conceded an early goal in the fourth leg of their 2023/24 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) Group J match against Urawa Red Diamonds at the Pohang Steelyard on Monday, but came from behind to secure a thrilling 2-1 victory thanks to a 21st-minute penalty equalizer from Zeca and a dramatic late winner from Kim In-sung in stoppage time.
Pohang, the 2023 FA Cup champions, were drawn in Group J alongside Wuhan Shandong (China), Hanoi (Vietnam) and defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds (Japan) in this season’s ACL group stage. Heading into the match, Pohang had won all three of its group games to top the group.
After a 2-0 away win over Urawa in the third match of the group stage on March 24, Pohang rode the momentum and swept Urawa at home for their fourth straight win in the group. With Hanoi’s 2-1 come-from-behind win over Wuhan in the other match in the same group, Pohang secured early qualification for the round of 16 regardless of the remaining group results.
On the day, Pohang struggled after conceding the first goal to Guinea striker N’Golo Kante in the 36th minute, unable to open up the Urawa goal. The drama of Pohang’s comeback began in the 21st minute of the second half when they earned a penalty kick.
The video assistant referee (VAR) was activated when Hong Yun-sang’s cross from inside the penalty box hit Urawa defender Marius Huybroten in the hand, and after checking the on-field monitor, the referee awarded Pohang a penalty kick. Zeca then neatly converted the penalty kick to make the score 1-1.
After tying the game, Pohang took advantage of their numerical advantage and pressured Urawa in the 27th minute of the second half. Urawa winger Takahiro Akimoto made a dangerous tackle on Ko Young-joon, earning a direct free kick. The referee initially gave Akimoto a warning, but upon the recommendation of the VAR room, he reviewed the incident on the monitor and canceled the warning and showed the red card.
Pohang was not all smiles, however, as Ko Young-jun was tackled deeply and was stretchered off the field in excruciating pain. Pohang eventually sent Kim In-sung onto the field to replace Ko Young-jun, who was unable to continue.
Kim In-sung, who came on unexpectedly, turned out to be a hero for Pohang. With nine minutes of second-half stoppage time remaining, Pohang managed to turn the game around with a theatrical goal in stoppage time. Kim Seung-dae’s cross hit the goalkeeper’s hands, but the second ball fell to Kim In-sung, who scored the game-winning goal.
“I was a little worried after watching the Ulsan and Incheon matches yesterday,” said Kim at the post-match press conference. “We were not in a position to go out with our best 11 from the start, and I thought what if we couldn’t do it, but the players did better than I thought,” he said.
“I’m grateful that we were able to do our best until the end and bring home the win,” he said, adding, “Jeonbuk also lost, but I felt proud that Pohang is doing well as they are undefeated among the K League teams.” 캡틴토토 도메인
Incheon and Ulsan lost to Shandong Taishan (China) and Johor Darul Taqzim (Malaysia), respectively, on July 7, while Jeonbuk lost 0-2 at Ryan City Sailors (Singapore) on July 8, leaving Pohang as the only team to win its fourth group game and retain its K League pride.
However, Kim was not all smiles after the thrilling come-from-behind victory. Ko Young-joon was stretchered off after a deep tackle, and Kim Seung-dae, who scored the game-winning goal, also complained of pain after sending in a cross.
“I was worried about (Go) Young-jun and (Kim) Seung-dae’s injuries before the East Coast derby against Ulsan,” Kim said, “Young-jun’s ankle is swollen, so he’s icing it. Seung-dae is not walking properly and he said he heard a pop. We’ll have to do a full diagnosis tomorrow to find out.”
Pohang will host Ulsan, which has won two consecutive league titles, in the 36th round of the Hana OneQ K League 1 2023 and the East Coast Derby at 4:30 p.m. on April 12 at Ulsan Munsugu Stadium. Kim’s woes deepened when Ko Young-joon and Kim Seung-dae were ruled out due to injury ahead of the crucial fixture.