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Recap: Pohang Steelers 2-0 Busan IPark

Busan IPark, Pohang Steelers, K League 1
Pohang Steelers opened their 2020 K League 1 campaign with a dominant 2-0 victory over Busan IPark. Todd Wilde recaps the game, and looks at what Busan and Pohang need to focus on ahead of the second round of games.

What Happened?

Pohang celebrated the start of their 30th season at the Steel Yard with a dominant 2-0 win over promoted side Busan IPark. The Steelers initially sat back, allowing Busan to hold the lion's share of the possession in the first quarter of the game. IPark started brightly and did not look out of place in the K League 1 with their crisp, progressive passing football, however were restricted to speculative efforts from Romulo and Lee Dong-jun, who both blazed over from outside the box. Against the run of play, the Steelers broke the deadlock in the 24th minute, as right back Kim Yong-hwan's excellent floated cross found the head of Stanislav Iljutcenko, who expertly guided his header into the bottom left corner from 8 yards out. Iljutcenko almost doubled the Steelers lead soon after, heading narrowly wide from Alexsandar Palačević's cross.

Stanislav Iljutcenko
Stanislav Iljutcenko celebrates his maiden goal of the campaign

Pohang were in the ascendancy for the second half, as they controlled the game at a canter. Wave after wave of attacks came from the men in red and black, as Iljutcenko was again left unmarked, the German striker narrowly heading wide from Kim Yong-hwan's deep cross. Shortly after, Lee Gwang-hyeok almost scored straight after his introduction as a substitute, latching onto the impressive Kim's long ball and lobbing the keeper from 25 yards out, but he was unfortunate to miss the target. 
In the 69th minute Song Min-kyu broke down the left, easily evading centre back Kang Min-soo and attempting to find target man Iljutcenko with a through ball. The pass was well intercepted by Dostonbek Tursunov, but the Uzbek debutant failed to notice the on-rushing German hurriedly attempt to win the ball in the box, who hustled like an angry terrier. The German striker smartly got his foot in front of the ball as the defender took too long to clear, forcing a foul and stonewall penalty shout. Alexsandar Palačević made no mistake from the spot, drilling the ball down the middle to make it 2-0.

Match Highlights:

What Went Well?

Pohang's research paid off as they successfully identified several flaws in Busan's backline. Whilst early efforts to catch Busan napping on the counter weren't wildly successful, they had much more success using the brilliant right foot of Kim Yong-hwan as a weapon, the wing back firing a range of floated and whipped crosses from the right wing into a chaotically defended 18 yard box. Stanislav Iljutcenko's movement and strength was a joy to watch throughout, constantly finding space between defenders in the final third, whilst often dropping deep and winning free kicks as the Steelers looked to consolidate possession and build attacks. 

Busan had success early on finding Lee Dong-jun and youngster Lee Sang-jun in dangerous wide positions, however IPark will need to find ways to support the youngsters with passing options in and around the 18 yard box, as they were often left isolated. Kim Moon-hwan was impressive at right back, preventing Song Min-kyu from using the left wing as an effective outlet, and forcing Pohang to focus attacks down the right side. IPark were successful at winning fouls in dangerous positions, as Romulo and substitute Han Ji-ho missed chances from dead ball situations where IPark have been productive in recent seasons.

What Didn't Go Well?

Song Min-kyu and Manuel Palacios lacked a quality end product in attacking positions, as they were for the large part kept quiet by Korean international Kim Moon-hwan and former Doncaster left back Yun Suk-young. However, both were excellent at finding space and stretching the defence from deep positions, so there are signs that the pair can step up and replace last season's Player of the Season Wanderson.
Cho Duk-jae handed debuts to six new signings, four of them defenders - but some defending left much to be desired as IPark were made to look like a group of players that had never played together. Uzbek international Dostonbek Tursunov had a nightmare introduction to the Korean top flight after he was arguably at fault for both goals, allowing Stanislav Iljutcenko to easily climb for the opening header, whilst his indecisiveness clearing the ball for the penalty was a criminal error at this level.

Cho Duk-jae
Busan coach Cho Duk-jae

In reality these mistakes were the tip of the iceburg for IPark, who gave up many soft fouls in midfield, relinquishing long periods of possession to the opposition. Significantly, Pohang were allowed to direct crosses from deep positions several times during open play, often finding the gap between centre backs Dontonbek and Kang Min-soo but unable to find a man in red and black. Given how much Jeonbuk relied on crosses in their narrow defeat of Suwon, Busan will have to improve their defense from wide positions and quickly if they are to avoid a second consecutive loss to start the season.

What Do They Need To Do Now?

Pohang's passing on the deck was sloppy at times in the final third, as the side often threatened to pass the ball into the box before passing straight to an opposition player. Given that this was the team's first competitive match for six months this is perhaps forgiveable, but a stronger opposition will be able to comfortably contain the aerial bombardment that the Steelers enjoyed against Busan, so Pohang need to develop a more effective short passing game to act as an effective Plan B.

Gustavo Vintecinco, Ha Chang-rae
Ha Chang-rae rises above Gustavo Vintecinco to win an aerial encounter

Lee Dong-jun showed glimpses of the brilliance that has alerted European scouts to his talent, however Busan need to provide the winger with better passing options and movement in the final third. Striker Gustavo Vintecinco had a difficult debut, often marked out of the game and unable to make a physical impact, especially as a long ball outlet. Coach Cho Duk-jae would do well to consider whether the team's system needs adapting for the most capable sides in the league, as their possession based football produced limited chances of note, particularly in the second half. They now prepare for a Jeonbuk side that is likely to dominate possession and offer an even sterner test.


Who's Up Next?

Pohang next travel to Daegu, a 4:30pm kickoff on Saturday 16th May (8:30am UK, 12:30am PT), before Busan host Jeonbuk at 7pm KET (11am UK, 6am ET), their first K League 1 home game for four years.

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