Monday, November 12, 2007

Silky Steelers Shatter Seongnam

Pohang lift the K-League trophy

It was surprisingly easy in the end. Pohang Steelers defeated Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 1-0 in the second leg of the final of the 2007 K-League championship play-off series to add to their 3-1 win a week previously.

As Kim Ki-dong lifted the golden trophy on a chilly November afternoon at Seongnam's Tancheon Stadium, he became the fourth Pohang captain to do so but the first in 15 years.

It is open for debate as to whether the south-eastern outfit deserve to be champions after finishing in fifth (and with a negative goal difference) at the end of the regular season but in the play-offs, Pohang were dynamite.

Pohang players celebrate with fans

The fuse burned slowly at first. A penalty shootout win at Gyeongnam FC after 120 minutes of football on October 20 finished 1-1. The reward was another short trip –this time to rivals and 2005 champions Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i. A deserved 2-1 win was the result and suddenly the Steelers were 90 minutes away from the final. There was a formidable barrier in the way however, a big blue one in the shape of Suwon Samsung Bluewings.

Jonhes Elias Pinto Dos Santos - one of Pohang's Brazilians

That was no problem either. An 87th minute, slightly fortuitous backward-diving header from Park Won-jae won the game and silenced the famous Grand Bleu.

By this time, the Korean media was getting excited about the possibility of Pohang boss Sergio Farias becoming the next coach of the national team. A Brazilian with success in the K-League looked to be the best of both worlds. Unfortunately for the 40-year old, he enjoys little support in the KFA and if he was to get the job, he would be far from first choice.

Pohang players
Back to the play-offs and it was expected that Seongnam, who finished four points clear at the top of the standings at the end of the regular season, would be a test to far for Pohang.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Pohang took the first leg 3-1. Only some desperate defending and a last-minute strike from Seongnam's Keith Gillespie lookalike left-back Jang Hak-young kept the cushion at a respectable two goals.

In-game action

It was Seongnam’s first game since their Asian Champions League semi-final exit at the hands of Urawa Reds. Tempting as it is to use that epic 4-4 encounter and the subsequent penalty shootout heartbreak as a reason for Seongnam’s sluggishness, the fact is that since the summer, the seven-time champions haven’t been at their best. As boss Kim Hak-beom said after the Pohang loss, “the players didn’t play the Seongnam way.”

Pohang fans - hungry for success

Pohang won the second leg almost as comfortably as they took the first. From the moment, Brazilian striker Cleber Schwenck hammered the ball into the top corner of the hosts’ net on the stroke of half-time, the destination of the golden trophy was never in doubt.

Matchwinner Cleber Schwenck

Seongnam knew it too, despite their best efforts. In truth, the yellows rarely troubled Jung Ryoeng-syong in the Pohang goal and the visitors could have scored more.

It didn’t matter in the end. A 4-1 aggregate win over the defending champions in the play-off final is emphatic enough.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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