Steelers primed for AFC matchup

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Steelers primed for AFC matchup

Sergio Farias and his Pohang Steelers have their eyes set on two goals: winning the AFC Champions League title and qualifying for next year’s AFC tourney.

The Pohang Steelers are primed and ready to make a statement in the AFC Champions League semifinal matchup. The Steelers will face Umm Salal of the Qatari league in the first leg of the semifinals in Pohang, North Gyeongsang tonight with the kickoff time set for 7:30 p.m. The second leg match will take place on Oct. 29 at 2 a.m. KST in Doha, Qatar.

Pohang is currently in third place in the K-League with 12 wins, 11 draws and three defeats. More importantly, the Steelers are confident about their chances of winning the AFC Champions League title this year after failing to survive out of the group phase in last year’s tourney.

Pohang has momentum on their side after defeating the Uzbek powerhouse Bunyodkor 4-1 in the second leg of the quarterfinals match after losing the first leg 3-1 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In the K-League, the Steelers’ nine game unbeaten streak (six wins and three draws) came to an end on Oct. 11 when they lost to the Chunnam Dragons. Regardless, Pohang still has an unbeaten streak at home this season. In 22 total games held at the Steelyard this season, including the K-League, FA Cup, Peace Cup and AFC Champions League matches, Pohang boasts 13 wins and 9 draws.

“It is the most important game of the season. We will win at all costs on our home ground. We have been playing well in all competitions this year and our players have been preparing well without much problem,” Pohang manager Farias said in a press conference yesterday. “We have thoroughly analyzed our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. Umm Salal possesses many quality players. We will study the mistakes we made in the quarterfinals match and make sure we don’t repeat them.”

Pohang is focused on getting past Umm Salal but they also have another important target in mind. Currently sitting in third place, Sergio Farias and his team must focus on overtaking second placed FC Seoul in the K-League standings. Only the top two teams from the K-League earn automatic berths to next year’s AFC Champions League. The third place team will have to go through the difficult task of entering a three-team playoff to earn a spot in next year’s tourney.

Farias has admitted his team is fatigued from the tight schedule, which included domestic matches on the weekends on top of the AFC Champions League matches during the week.

In order for the attacking style of the Steelers to be firing on all cylinders, Brazilian forward Denilson Martins Nascimento, Stevica Ristic of Macedonia, Yoo Chang-hyun and Noh Byung-joon will have to produce. Denilson has netted seven goals so far in Champions League play and is ranked third overall among leading goal scorers. He also has eight goals in domestic matches while Ristic and Yoo have seven goals apiece in K-League play.

Umm Salal, led by French Manager Gerard Gili, boasts two formidable Brazilian forwards in Magno Alves and Davi. Alves scored two goals in the 3-2 first leg win over FC Seoul in the quarterfinals match in Doha.

By Jason Kim []
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