Pohang’s stellar year ends on a sour note

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Pohang’s stellar year ends on a sour note

As good a year as the Pohang Steelers had, team officials and players are certainly not looking forward to the off-season after being eliminated from contention in the K-League Championship on Sunday.

The team already won the AFC Champions League title and earned the distinction as AFC Club of the Year after taking the Peace Cup Korea. But Pohang came up short in the K-League Championship at home against the fourth-ranked Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, losing 1-0.

Pohang lived up to their reputation, pressing their opponents early on in the match. But the effort wasn’t enough to put points on the board. Although the Steelers were up a man in the later stages of the second half after a Seongnam defender was ejected for arguing a corner kick, the high-scoring Pohang offense could not overcome a stifling defense. The loss, some observers said, could even be partially tied to the team’s success this season.

“It looked to me like Pohang’s players were complacent,” said Jeonbuk Motors Manager Choi Kang-hee, whose team will play Seongnam in the finals, which start Wednesday. “They are the top club in Asia, but the K-League Championship is a whole different tourney, and I think they failed to keep that in mind,”

In a post-game interview, Pohang Manager Sergio Farias seemed to share Choi’s overall take on the match.

“I think our players were looking for an easier approach after winning [the AFC Champions League] under difficult circumstances,” Farias said.

The loss itself is painful enough for Pohang, but the team also missed out on the bonus that comes with winning the K-League title. The cash prize for the club that takes the league title is 300 million won ($258,600), though the Steelers were in line to receive much more.

“We were set to receive four times the amount,” said Kim Tae-man, president of Pohang.

In 2007, the club’s sponsor, Posco, promised to dole out 1.2 billion won in cash bonuses to the Steelers if the team won the league title. The total cash payout for the Steelers would have been 1.5 billion won if they had advanced to the finals and defeated Jeonbuk Motors.

With the team’s overall strong performance this year, rumors that overseas clubs are showing strong interest in Pohang players have surfaced recently. According to a majority of sources close to the Steelers, Denilson has received a lucrative contract offer from the Uzbek club Bunyodkor. Choi Hyo-jin is likely to sign on with the Kawasaki Frontale of the J-League. Kim Hyung-il and Noh Byung-jun are also being targeted.

By Kim Jong-ryeok, Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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