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Preview: Gangwon FC vs Pohang Steelers

Gangwon FC vs Pohang Steelers

Having secured a crucial victory in the race for the AFC Champions League last week, Pohang Steelers will visit the Gangneung Stadium for a matchup against Gangwon FC in the Round 20 of K League 1 on Sunday, September 13. Can Pohang stay on track in their pursuit for the much-coveted spot or will Gangwon pick up a surprise win? Pohang Steelers columnist Shibajee Das previews the match.


Last Time Out

Gangwon FC 2-3 Incheon United

Gangwon was coming into this match on the back of a shock away win over Jeonbuk. But it was the visitors who had the first notable attempt of the match when Stefan Mugosa hit his shot over the bar after 20 minutes. This was followed by Gangwon skipper Jung Seok-hwa forcing Lee Tae-hui to make the first save of the match. That was all that both sides could muster in a forgettable first half.

However, it was a completely different story in the second half. Lee Ho-in was adjudged to have handled in the area, and a spot-kick was awarded after a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review. Mugosa made no mistake to give Incheon the lead in the 51st minute. Elias Aguilar then hit the post with a curling free-kick, but Incheon didn't have to wait long to extend their advantage. Mugosa scored with a brilliant header and then completed his hat-trick with a cheeky backheel. Substitute Kim Ji-hyun reduced the arrears after a defensive mixup in the 70th minute. Lee Ho-in then atoned for his earlier error with a fine header from a corner. Incheon eventually managed to hold on for the rest of the match to pick up three massive points in their bid to avoid the drop.   



Pohang Steelers 3-2 Daegu FC

Pohang came into this match after a much-needed victory over Seongnam. Manager Kim Gi-dong opted to leave top-scorer Stanislav Iljutchenko on the bench for this crucial clash. It was Daegu who made a perfect start to the match when Cesinha opened the scoring in the 7th minute. But some reckless defending from the visitors resulted in Manuel Palacios being brought down in the area and the referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Aleksandar Palosevic smashed home from 12 yards to draw the scores level. It didn't take Daegu long to restore their lead when Cesinha scored yet again. This time the Brazilian lashed home from the edge of the box and had the celebration to match his strike. It was an end-to-end contest with the Steelers ending the half brightly.

The hosts continued that momentum in the second half, and a brilliant build-up play resulted in Palacios tapping the ball into an unguarded net. After this, both sides were going for the kill. Kang-Hyeon mu had to tip over Kim Seon-min's effort before Song Min-kyu completed a stunning comeback with a brilliant header in the 81st minute. Tempers flared towards the end of the contest, but Pohang ultimately picked up a crucial win and kept their Champions League dreams intact.   




Previous Meetings

Gangwon and Pohang have faced each other on 21 occasions. Pohang has the upper hand, winning 10 matches and losing five, with six matches ending in a stalemate.

The last time they met each other was in the K League 1 Round 8 fixture, which had taken place on June 20th, 2020. Two second-half goals from Stanislav Iljutchenko and Kwon Wan-gyu sealed the win for the hosts. It was the start of a run of three consecutive league victories for the Steelers.




Team News

Manager Kim Byung-soo is expected to continue in his trademark 3-4-3 formation, with Lim Chai-min expected to return at the heart of the defence, having missed the previous match due to suspension. 

As for Pohang, Lee Seung-mo could make way for the return of Stanislav Iljutchenko to the starting lineup. But Iljutchenko is running the risk of a suspension, having picked up four yellow cards. So, it remains to be seen what Kim Gi-dong opts to do in such a scenario.

On the other hand, Kang Sang-woo, who has scored seven league goals for Sangju Sangmu this season, has returned back to Pohang after completing his military service. He straightaway started in the previous match and is a welcome addition to the squad at this stage of the season. Kang could carry on in the left-back slot in place of Kim Sang-won. Kwon Wan-gyu and Brandon O'Neill continue to be the usual absentees.


The Adversary

Kim Ji-hyun has been impressive for Gangwon this season

Gangwon FC finished in the top half of the table last season. This season, they have been unable to push on and take the next step forward. They are currently placed sixth in the league table. But it is turning out to be a tough fight for the sixth spot, with Gangwon being one of four teams on 21 points. However, it must be noted that they do have a young squad and haven't used a single foreigner in this campaign.

The highlights of their season have been beating defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, both home and away in the league. The standout performers for the team have been experienced forward Go Moo-yol and youngster Kim Ji-hyun. Both have scored six goals each this season, and are the joint top scorers for the team. 24-year-old Kim has been impressive in particular, having scored in crucial matches. He scored twice in the away victory against Jeonbuk, including a stoppage-time winner and had also managed to find the back of the net last week.


What To Watch

Does Kim Gi-dong have more surprises in store?




Last week, Pohang manager Kim Gi-dong had raised many eyebrows with his team selection. Kim not only replaced Pohang's usual 4-2-3-1 with a 4-5-1 setup but also opted to surprisingly leave top-scorer Stanislav Iljutchenko on the bench. The Russian striker had rescued his team with a brilliant brace in the previous game against Seongnam but had picked up a yellow card in the process. The booking meant Iljutchenko was running the risk of a suspension, but given the magnitude of the match against Daegu, it was a very bold move.

Initially, the decision seemed to backfire badly as Pohang seemed bereft of ideas and were trailing at half-time. But Kim's half-time pep talk turned the match on its head as the Steelers came from behind to grab all three points in a match which could have massive ramifications at the end of the season.

Kim managed to deliver a message, that his team is not just dependant on one man for goals. With a midweek trip to Suwon coming up after this match, Kim Gi-dong might have some more surprises lined up against Gangwon.


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Prediction

It could be a tepid start to the match but expect things to open up in the second half of the contest. Both teams will eventually find more spaces going forward, which should lead to a watchable second half.

However, Pohang has struggled on the road in recent fixtures. But in this match against Gangwon, Pohang's all-round qualities and squad depth should prove enough to see them over the line and record their first away league win since mid-July.

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