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ACL Round of 16 Preview: Cerezo Osaka Vs Pohang Steelers

Cerezo Osaka Vs Pohang Steelers
Pohang Steelers will travel to Japan to take on J.League outfit Cerezo Osaka in a blockbuster AFC Champions League Round of 16 encounter. The Steelers will aim to stun Cerezo at the Nagai Stadium on Wednesday, September 15. Who will march onto the next round of Asia's elite club competition? Pohang Steelers Columnist Shibajee Das previews the match. 

Recent Form

Cerezo Osaka will be coming into this match on a back of a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. Prior to that, they did pick up a 3-0 victory over the same opposition away from home. The Cherry Blossoms have had an inconsistent league season, due to which they are in the bottom half of the league table. They have picked up two wins and suffered three defeats in their last five league matches. However, Cerezo did recently reach the semi-finals of the J.League Cup, after turning around a first-leg deficit to knock city rivals Gamba Osaka out of the competition.

On the other hand, Pohang Steelers also suffered a loss in their previous match. They lost 2-1 to Daegu FC at home in the K League. The Steelers have recorded just a solitary victory in their last five league matches, drawing twice and losing the other two. Last month, they were shown the exit door in the Korean FA Cup by second-tier Jeonnam Dragons in the quarter-final stage. Despite the unconvincing run of form, Pohang is currently in fourth place in the league standings.

Team News

Cerezo Osaka

Cerezo is expected to line up in their preferred 4-4-2 setup. Former South Korea international Kim Jin-hyeon will be between the sticks. Ayumu Seko and Ryuya Nishio have been the centre backs in the last couple of league matches. Tiago Pagnussat was the man who made way, so it remains to be seen if he is reinstated into the starting lineup. 

Cerezo Osaka
Photo Credit: Cerezo Osaka

The Brazilian centre-back has a good record of scoring goals. He has already found the back of the net four times in the J.League and thrice in the AFC Champions League since his arrival in April. Recent arrival Takashi Inui is expected to start, having played the full 90 minutes in the defeat against Consadole Sapporo. Further forward, Australian striker Adam Taggart was away on international duty, but he might play a part in this match. 

Pohang Steelers

The Steelers have a relatively small squad and it has been depleted with injuries. Alex Grant was rested in the match against Daegu but should return against Cerezo. Borys Tashchy continues to be out with an unknown injury. However, Kim Gi-dong will be extremely worried about two of the team's regular starters. Lee Seung-mo suffered a sprained ankle in the match against the Sky Blues. More importantly, top scorer Lim Sang-hyub hobbled off with a hamstring issue and is now a doubt for this match.

Under the given circumstances, Kang Sang-woo could play up front. If not, then talented youngster Kwon Gi-pyo is likely to get a nod in one of the wide roles. Mario Kvesic might also be in the starting lineup, due to the number of players injured or doubtful in attack for Pohang. If Lee Seung-mo is unable to play, then Kim Gi-dong will have a big headache as to whom to deploy in the lone centre forward position up top. 


Both teams have faced each other on two previous occasions. They were paired together in the group stages of the AFC Champions League in 2014. The first meeting was a 1-1 draw at the Steel Yard. The return leg proved to be a memorable match for the Steelers at the Nagai Stadium.

Cerezo in those days used to be spearheaded by the legendary Diego Forlan. However, a first-half red card to current Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino proved to be the turning point. Pohang ultimately ran out 2-0 winners. The Steelers will be hoping that the trip to Nagai will once again be a fruitful one.    

The Adversary

Cerezo Osaka has had a strange season so far. Their Brazilian coach Levir Culpi, who was in his fourth stint with the club, parted company after a 5-1 defeat at the hands of Shonan Bellmare. Akio Kogiku has been named as Culpi's replacement. An underwhelming domestic season means the Cherry Blossoms are currently in the bottom half of the table, occupying the 12th spot. 

Photo Credit: Cerezo Osaka

However, things have been very different in the continental competition. Placed in Group J of the AFC Champions League, Cerezo had to tackle Kitchee, Port FC and Guangzhou FC in the group stage. The team went unbeaten with 14 points from six matches. Cerezo Osaka will now hope to end the season on a high and keep their good run going in the ACL. The Japanese outfit is aiming to reach the quarter-finals stage for only the second time ever, having previously done so in 2011.   

Who to Watch

Takashi Inui

Cerezo Osaka
Photo Credit: Cerezo Osaka

Cerezo Osaka recently announced the arrival of prodigal son Takashi Inui in a bid to provide a spark to their season. The vastly experienced winger returns home after a decade in Europe, plying his trade for various clubs in Bundesliga and La Liga.

The 33-year-old winger is held in high regard in Japan. He had scored two memorable goals for the national team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Inui's experience and leadership skills will be an invaluable asset to the Cerezo side. He made his second debut for Cerezo in the cup tie against Gamba Osaka. Now he will once again be seen in ACL action. No wonder, there will be a lot of buzz surrounding Takashi Inui in this crunch clash!

Kang Sang-woo

With several of the team's key players likely to be out due to injury, the senior players in the Pohang team need to step up in this match. One of them is Kang Sang-woo. Despite being the vice-captain of the team, he has worn the armband for the majority of the season due to club captain Oh Beom-seok's limited appearances.

The left-back is equally comfortable playing further forward. Kang has already netted two goals in the ACL group stage this season. An eye-catching season for Pohang has seen him make his international debut against Sri Lanka in June. However, the 27-year-old was an unused substitute in Korea Republic's recent FIFA World Cup qualifiers versus Iraq and Lebanon. Back in action for the Steelers, Kang Sang-woo is once again ready to show his talents on the continental stage.

Shibajee Das
K League United Columnist
Twitter: @Shibagoal

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