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Preview: Pohang Steelers v Jeonnam Dragons

The Pohang Steelers host the second POSCO derby of the season at the Steelyard stadium in Pohang this Saturday evening. The hosts, whose form has been patchy of late, lie in fifth place and are in a great position to acquire an Asian Champions League (ACL) spot this year, with just a point separating them and Gangwon in third place. The visitors, Jeonnam, meanwhile, have been in fine form and are unbeaten in their last five K-League games. Can the Dragons avenge the 3-1 defeat from their last meeting or will Pohang prevail once again and tighten their grip on an ACL place? Alex Meyer and Aodan Halligan preview this Saturday's big game. 

(image via steelers.co.kr)

The Dragons Last Time Out (Aodan Halligan)

It was honors even for the Dragons as they drew with Jeju United in a enthralling game of football in Gwanyang last Sunday.

Róbert Feczesin (with the ball) in action for the Dragons versus Jeju United last Sunday
(image via dragons.co.kr) 

And even though the 7 p.m. kickoff did little to deter the humidity on the first weekend of monsoon season, both teams gave their all in a fantastic advertisement for Korean soccer.

In fact, Jeju started off like a monsoon and were almost ahead after just 61 seconds - when 28-year-old French born Guinea-Bissauan striker Frédéric Mendy headed a powerful effort goalwards after a Jeju corner. 
Jeju's Frédéric Mendy (in white) tussling for the ball 
(image via dragons.co.kr)

Luckily for the Dragons, however, goalkeeper Lee Ho-seung was alert to the danger and managed to dive high to his left and push the ball onto the crossbar. The ball then bounced to Jeju's Australian center-back Aleksandar Jovanović by the right-hand post, but the angle was too acute and he struck his effort off the outside of the post. 

Jeju recycled the ball once more, yet Mendy's volley sailed over the crossbar. 

The six-foot-four striker proved a handful all day and the Dragons really missed their own Australian center-back - Tomislav Mrčela. Indeed, Jeju seemed buoyed by the big man's absence and tailored their tactics to take advantage, peppering the Dragons' penalty box with crosses all evening, as if they were expecting the floodgates to open at any moment. 

And it was from one of these crosses, in the 22nd minute, that Jeju took the lead - 29-year-old Brazilian midfielder Magna Cruz eventually applying the finish. Cruz could hardly have missed, though, after Dragons' center-back Lee Ji-nam had diverted the Jeju cross towards his own net and Dragons' keeper Lee Ho-seung palmed it straight to his feet, just three yards out (only Alex could miss from there). 

A gift from the otherwise inconspicuous rain god, perhaps, and Jeju were still one nil up when the referee whistled for half time.

The islanders also sprinted out of the blocks in the second half and once again Mendy had a great opportunity with a header after a brilliant right wing cross from 22-year-old Korean midfielder Ahn Hyeon-beom. The striker, barely seven yards out, failed to get over the ball, however, and his effort flew over the bar. 

It proved costly, too, as the Dragons brought themselves back into the game just eight minutes later - and what a goal it was!

Left-back Chung Woon headed clear a Jeonnam corner only for the ball to fall straight to 20-year-old Dragons' midfielder Han Chan Hee. And Han, despite the attention of two Jeju players, struck a beautiful right-foot volley into the bottom left-corner of the net. 

The midfielder rushed straight to the bench and bear-hugged Dragons' coach Noh Sang-rae.  

And a few minutes later there were wild celebrations all around the stadium after a strong Feczesin run down the left side of the the penalty box. The striker was approaching the end line when he decided to swing in a low cross with his left foot to the edge of the six yard box, and right-back Lee Ji-nam finished with aplomb - side-footing the ball under 33-year-old Jeju keeper, Kim Ho-jun. Lee Ji-nam injured himself in the process, delaying the kickoff by a minute or so.

It was now 2-1 to the Dragons and the game had turned on its head in the space of three minutes, but things were about to get even crazier.

Jeju centered off after Lee Ji-nam had recovered and then played in wing-back Kim Su-beom on the right wing. The 26-year-old Korean defender waltzed past Jeonnam defender Choi Jae-hyun on the edge of the penalty area before cutting inside and heading straight for goal. He then beat Dragons' midfielder Kim Young-wook and tried to pass the ball inside, but a lucky deflection sent it out to Magno Cruz at the edge of the penalty box instead, and the Brazilan side-footed it home into the bottom right corner for his second goal of the game. 

2-2 and Jeonnam had held onto the lead for a mere two minutes (most of which had been taken up by Lee Ji-nam's injury).

Jeju then went on to dominate the ball, missing a string of chances, including an open goal from just three yards out, after great work from Ahn Hyeon-beom. 
Ahn was the best player on the pitch, however, and exciting times lie ahead for him if he keeps putting in performances like that. 

Jeju United's #17 Ahn Hyeon-beom (on the left)
(image via yonhap.co.kr)

But Jeonnam, who had had a few chances of their own on the break, were not willing to settle for a point and could have stolen it at the death - Jair's 93rd minute effort cannoning off the crossbar.

Full time arrived shortly after and everyone could breathe again!

Final score: Jeonnam 2 Jeju 2.

The Pohang Steelers (in blue) in action v Jeonnam in April
(image via dragons.co.kr)

The Steelers (Alex Meyer)

The Pohang Steelers come into week 19 sitting in 5th place on 28 points, with nine wins eight losses and one draw. Although they secured a 1-0 win on the road in week 18 against Sangju, they’re a bit off form, losing four of their last six games. At home this season they have five wins and four losses, 15 goals for and 13 goals against.

Good news for the Dragons, the last three home games for the Steelers have seen losses with a combined three goals for and seven against. Even with the weak run of form the Steelers can be a dangerous team and a tough team to beat. For the Dragons to become a top six team, which I think they can still achieve, this is a game they need to win and the Steelers are a team they need to beat out for one of the spots.

How do the Dragons get it done? The Steelers like to score late, 40.7% of their goals have come in the last 15 minutes of games and the Dragons have had a problem with conceding late. Mental toughness will play into this and seeing as the Dragons conceded the tying goal just two minutes after taking the lead in week 18, I’ve been told FOCUS has been stressed in training all week. 

The Dragons need to keep the Steelers from scoring early and allow the game to open up, enabling Jair to create space and do what he does.
Yang Dong-hyun K-League Week 18 MVP 
(image via imgnews.naver.net)
Player to watch.
#18 Yang Dong-hyun has been a beast for the Steelers so far. At the age of 31 he has played 1530 minutes this season, a team high, and already has twelve goals to his name, one off his career season high of thirteen in 2016. Add in two assists, he has been the Steelers' most reliable and strongest player all season. 

Measurements of 187cm and a 83 kg makes him a  physically dominating player in box. Combined with Tomislav Mrcela's  likely absence (after that dirty stomp on the ankle from Edu of Jeonbuk a few weeks ago), Dong-Woon could take control of the box.


Alex: I definitely see a different game and score line than week four, when the Steelers came to town and beat the Dragons three to one. I haven't picked against the Dragons all season and I'm not going to start today. 2-1 Dragons.

Aodan: It's being billed as a shootout between the K-League's top scorers - Yang Dong-hyun and Jair - and I wouldn't be surprised to see both of them score. The Dragons will be under the cosh a lot in this one, yet I fancy us to cause a few problems of our own. Thus, I'm going to go for a draw. 2-2. 



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