Pohang Steelers secured a place in the round of 16 at the AFC Champions League, while FC Seoul took a huge step closer toward the knockout phase at the annual Asian club football competition on Wednesday.
The two K League Classic sides both enjoyed group stage victories. Pohang defeated Cerezo Osaka 2-0 in their Group E match in Osaka, as Lee Myung-joo and Kim Seung-dae had a goal apiece.
Pohang, with one match remaining, clinched the first place in the group with 11 points and booked a ticket to the next round, open to the top two clubs from each of the eight groups.
Pohang, the 2009 AFC champ, has made the last 16 for the first time since 2010. Pohang will close out the group stage against Buriram United of Thailand at home next Wednesday.
In Gosford, Australia, FC Seoul beat Central Coast Mariners 1-0 in Group F, climbing to first place with eight points with one game left. The Australian club’s captain, John Hutchinson, had an own goal in the dying moments of the match, putting FC Seoul on course to advance to the next stage.
Behind FC Seoul, Central Coast Mariners, Beijing Guoan and Sanfrecce Hiroshima each has six points. FC Seoul’s final group stage contest will be against Beijing Guoan at Seoul World Cup Stadium next Wednesday.
The K League Classic has produced three of the past five AFC Champions.
In Osaka, Lee Myung-joo put Pohang up in the 23rd minute, and Cerezo Osaka went down a man just before halftime as Takumi Minamino was sent off for a challenge on Son Jun-ho.
Kim Seung-dae dashed the home club’s hopes for a comeback with a 65th minute score.
In the round of 16, Pohang will face the runner-up from Group G on May 6. All four teams in Group G are tied at seven points, including the reigning AFC champion Guangzhou Evergrande and K League Classic club Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Pohang head coach Hwang Sun-hong said he will take his time studying potential opponents in the next round.
“I am happy to have accomplished the goal of reaching the knockout stage, and it’s time to begin working toward our next objective,” he said. “We still have plenty of time to prepare for the next match.”
Hwang, a former striker, played for Cerezo Osaka from 1998 to 1999. Musing on his stint there, Hwang said he even passed his old home on his way to the stadium and the victory carried extra significance because of his past with the Japanese club.
FC Seoul emerged as the lucky winner over Central Coast. The Aussie club would have secured its second consecutive appearance in the knockout stage, but Hutchinson, the team captain, failed to clear a cross by Kim Jin-kyu and ended up putting it into his own net.
The two sides traded a few chances in the first half: FC Seoul defender Cha Du-ri rang one off the crossbar in the 19th, and Brent Griffiths and Zac Anderson each came close to scoring.
FC Seoul was in control in the second half but couldn’t solve the Mariners’ defense before the own goal.
The win snapped FC Seoul’s four-game winless slide, counting the AFC and the K League Classic games. FC Seoul head coach Choi Yong-soo said he’d been certain that his club would finally get a victory on Wednesday.
“We’d gone through some tough times as a team because we couldn’t get a win,” he said. “But I had faith in my players that they would come through. We never gave up, and I think having that mindset led to such a dramatic finish.” (Yonhap)