Draw kills Pohang’s ACL hopes; injuries claim trio of Steelers

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Draw kills Pohang’s ACL hopes; injuries claim trio of Steelers

For the second straight year, the Pohang Steelers failed to advance past the first stage of the Asian championship after a 1-1 draw with Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan on Tuesday. But their embarrassment didn’t stop there.

In the final Group G match between two Asian Football Confederation Champions League teams in Pohang, the host lost three key players to injury, raising alarms over its impressive early run in the K-League Classic.

Forward Ko Mu-yeol was replaced in the 30th minute due to a right ankle sprain, while goalie Shin Hwa-yong sat out the second half after injuring his right thigh. Midfielder Hwang Ji-soo was also replaced in the 65th minute because of an injury.

The Steelers are leading the K-League Classic, and are undefeated through the first nine games. They collected 19 points from five victories and four draws, three points clear of the runner-up, Incheon United.

But fatigue has been the team’s primary concern. Including the ACL campaign, Pohang has played 10 games since March 30, about one game every three days.

“I am really concerned about the players’ injuries ahead of a game against Seongnam,” Pohang coach Hwang Sun-hong said, referring to the Steelers’ league match against the Seongnam Chunma on Sunday. “I wish they were not serious injuries.”

Pohang midfielder Lee Myung-joo, who scored three goals this season, will not be able to play against Seongnam, because he is banned for a game after receiving two yellow cards.

Pohang entered the game with the pressure to win by at least two goals to be able to earn its own berth. Before the home match, Pohang, the 2012 K-League FA Cup winner, was three points behind Bunyodkor and two points behind Beijing. A victory over Bunyodkor by one goal meant that Pohang would have to hope that second-place Beijing Guoan lost to or drew with the already eliminated Sanfrecce Hiroshima in a match held simultaneously in Japan.

The Steelers went in full force from early on at the Pohang Steelyard, but it was the visitors who scored first. Bunyodkor striker Oleksandr Pyshur tapped a loose ball from the crowded box that got past substitute goalkeeper Kim Da-sol into the net in the 79th minute.

Pohang scored an equalizer on Park Sung-ho’s curling right-footer three minutes into the stoppage time, but ran out of time to turn the tide. Bunyodkor finished first in the group as the game between Beijing and Hiroshima ended in a scoreless draw.

“It was a very exciting fight and I’m glad we are now through to the Round of 16,” said Bunyodkor coach Mirdjalal Kasimov, according to the AFC Web site. “Pohang are a strong team, but we defended well and also took our chance.”

Pohang coach Hwang said he will take the blame for the elimination, not the players.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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