Pohang Steelers could not even enjoy the joy of being the FA Cup champion. Just four days later, they had to play the fourth Group J match of the 2023-2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) group stage against Urawa Reds, a traditional Japanese J-League powerhouse, at Pohang Steel Yard on the 8th.
Pohang manager Kim Ki-dong is deeply troubled. All-out war or planned rotation. The final choice was the latter. I couldn’t afford to devote 100% of my energy. I played seven games in the last three weeks. In particular, the FA Cup semifinals (1st) against Jeju United as an away match was a 120-minute blood fight that extended to extra time and a penalty shootout.
In the face of Urawa, armed with seasoned beauty, Pohang put forward “young blood. Four young guns under the age of 22 were selected. Lee Ho-jae stepped forward and breathed with left and right wings Hong Yoon-sang and Yoon Jae-woon. Kim’s son Kim Joon-ho was also deployed to Jungwon.
Kim also sent a clear message. On the morning of the day, he warmed up lightly with the players and said, “We are representatives of the K League. Let’s prove the power of Pohang. The season is not over. I’m going to play against Korea and Japan today. Let’s make it even if it’s hard,” he said. As Ulsan Hyundai and Incheon United lost away matches against Tazim (Malaysia) and Shandong Taishan (China), respectively, the day before (7th), there was a lot of pressure.
It wasn’t easy either. Pohang’s offense, whose actual rhythm was not constant, did not work well, and the defense was unstable. He endured Urawa’s offensive well, but his right side was pierced in the 36th minute of the first half. Jose Kanté kicked the ball that Urawa winger Ekanit Panya connected low.
The Pohang bench made a winning move with a bold second-half replacement. Zeka and Kim Jong-woo, who scored in the FA Cup final, were put in, and it worked in the 21st minute of the second half. Zekka scored a penalty kick from VAR.
Pohang did not stop. With the opponent’s exit gaining a numerical advantage, he staged a wave offensive until the last minute. Eventually, Kim In-sung, who was replaced in the 30th minute of the second half, scored a come-from-behind goal in extra time to make it 2-1. Pohang, which led the group with four consecutive wins and 12 points, is the closest to the round of 16 among the K-League teams.
Meanwhile, Jeonbuk Hyundai, which lost the top of the K League 1 to Ulsan in the midst of an extreme slump this season and failed to win its second consecutive FA Cup title behind Pohang, continued its slump in the international stage. It lost 0-2 in Group F of the tournament against Ryan City (Singapore), making it unlikely to become the leader with two wins and two losses (six points).