Steelers looking to secure a spot in the AFC finalsThe Pohang Steelers are not taking their upcoming match against Umm Salal lightly, despite having a commanding lead in the AFC semifinals.
The team enters the second leg of the semifinals tonight with a 2-0 lead. It’s a comfortable enough margin, as Pohang can secure a berth in the AFC Champions League finals to be held at National Stadium in Tokyo even if the two teams wind up tied with an overall score of 3-3 from the two matches.
But Pohang manager Sergio Farias doesn’t want to take any chances.
“We won the first game by two goals, but nothing has been determined yet,” Farias said in a post-game press conference. “We have to play the second leg to determine who will advance to the finals.”
Farias gambled and sent 13 of the team’s core players - including Denilson and Stevica Ristic - along with three coaches to Doha, Qatar last Saturday to get an early start on preparing for the semifinals match. Those players and coaches therefore did not participate in a K-League game against Gwangju Sangmu that took place the same day. Considering the Steelers are in the hunt for a triple crown - a feat they could achieve by winning the K-League and AFC Champions League titles in addition to the FA Cup they already secured - it was a big sacrifice. Pohang must also maintain its second-place ranking in league standings if it wants to secure an automatic berth in next year’s AFC Champions League.
Farias’s decision has paid off, at least so far.
During the Gwangju Sangmu match, Farias had the help of forward Kim Myung-joong and midfielder Go Seul-ki, who just recently finished their mandatory military service. Despite missing most of his core players, Farias managed to lead his team to a 3-2 win and in the process notch his 100th victory with Pohang.
As was the case in the first game of the semifinals, Pohang midfielders and defenders will have to contain Umm Salal’s two Brazilian forwards, Magno Alves and Davi.
The task will be harder considering that the Qatari club is in desperate need of at least three goals.
By Jason Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]