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ACL Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Ratchaburi Mitr Phol

AFC Champions League: Pohang vs Ratchaburi
Pohang Steelers will take on Thai League outfit Ratchaburi Mitr Phol in the 2021 AFC Champions League East Zone opening match. Pohang will aim to mark their return to the ACL with a victory, whereas debutants Ratchaburi will be hoping to impress on their continental bow. Who will start the campaign on a winning note at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok on Tuesday, June 22? Pohang Steelers Columnist Shibajee Das previews the match.   

Recent Form

After a stuttering start to the season, Pohang Steelers have steadied the ship in the last two months. The Steelers have suffered just a solitary defeat in the last 10 league matches, with that loss coming against league leaders Ulsan Hyundai. During this period, Pohang has picked up five wins and four draws. Kim Gi-dong's boys have also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Currently, the Steelers sit in fifth place in the K League standings as they gear up for continental action.

On the other hand, Ratchaburi Mitr Phol is out of competitive action for more than two and a half months. Their last outing was a FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Bangkok United in early April. Prior to that, Ratchaburi had recorded just three victories in their last 10 league matches. The Dragons finished the 2020-21 Thai League season in eighth place.       

The Adversary

Ratchaburi Mitr Phol's qualification to the AFC Champions League reminds us of the weird times we are living in. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thai League season was postponed in March last year. In April 2020, the Football Association of Thailand announced that the season would resume in September, with the top four teams in the first half of the season qualifying for the 2021 AFC Champions League. 

By virtue of being in the fourth spot at the midway point of the season, Ratchaburi managed to snatch a play-off spot. However, after Jiangsu FC was dissolved, the Dragons gained a direct entry to the group stages.   

Photo Credit: Ratchaburi Mitr Phol
Ratchaburi can count themselves lucky having eventually finished the season in eighth place. Club captain and last season's top-scorer Philip Roller has since moved on to fellow ACL side Port FC. However, the team can count upon centre-back Lee Jae-sung who moved from Incheon United at the beginning of this year.

The Dragons have recently shocked Thai football after handing a six-month contract to famed actor Phakin Khamwilaisak and included him in their ACL squad. They have also announced the arrival of Swiss attacking midfielder Sebastien Wuthrich, though he is unlikely to appear. Ratchaburi will face a tough task when they take to the field against a club that has won two continental titles even before the Thai side was founded.     

Who to Watch

Shin Jin-ho



Having captained East Coast rivals Ulsan Hyundai to AFC Champions League glory last season, Shin Jin-ho returned to where it all began for him in early 2021. His experience and leadership skills will be an invaluable asset to a team that hasn't competed in the continental stage since 2016.

Shin is the club's joint-highest assist-provider in the league this season. He also occasionally chips in with important goals, most notably from his trademark free-kicks. An engine in the midfield, the 32-year-old also shield the backline well and wins the majority of his defensive duels.      


Steeven Langil

Photo Credit: Ratchaburi Mitr Phol

Having gained plenty of experience in France, Poland and the Netherlands, Martinique international Steeven Langil headed East in 2018 to join Ratchaburi Mitr Phol. His form has been pivotal in guiding the Thai League side to the AFC Champions League for the first time ever.

Langil scored seven goals and was the third-highest assist provider in the league. His creativity was notable in the team's success, having provided a total of 11 assists. While this will be his first taste of the AFC Champions League, the 33-year-old winger has previously scored for Auxerre against Ajax in the UEFA Champions League.  


Shibajee Das
K League United Columnist


FNR


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