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ACL Quarter-final Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Nagoya Grampus

Pohang Steelers vs Nagoya Grampus

Pohang Steelers will make the short trip to the Jeonju World Cup Stadium to take on Nagoya Grampus in an enticing AFC Champions League quarter-final matchup. It will be a familiar opponent for the Steelers as both teams were drawn together in the group stage of this season's competition. Who will secure a coveted ticket in the semis of the continent's elite club competition on Sunday, 17 October? Pohang Steelers Columnist Shibajee Das previews the match.  

Recent Form

Pohang Steelers will be coming into this match on the back of a thrilling 3-2 away victory over Gwangju FC. Lee Ho-jae came off the bench to score two superb goals for his team. In fact, those were his first senior career goals. However, prior to that, the Steelers had suffered five consecutive league defeats in what was their worst run of form this season. The victory against Gwangju suddenly breathes new life into the Steelers' league campaign. They are currently in seventh place in the league table, but behind only on goal difference. Therefore, that win was crucial which still keeps Kim Gi-dong's boys in hunt for a top-half finish with one match to go before the split in the K League.

On the other hand, Nagoya Grampus had suffered a 1-0 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in their previous league encounter. But that was their sole defeat in the last five league matches, with three wins and a draw secured during that period. They are also still in the hunt for the Emperor's Cup, where they will take on Cerezo Osaka in the quarter-finals. Nagoya are currently in fourth place in the J.League standings, with six matches of the season remaining.   


Team News

Pohang Steelers

The Steelers are expected to lineup in their preferred 4-2-3-1 setup. The biggest worry for Pohang is the absence of their reliable goalkeeper Kang Hyeon-mu. He hasn't featured in goal in the last four league matches owing to a chronic ankle injury. Lee Jun will continue between the sticks in case of Kang's unavailability. The scorer of Pohang's equaliser in their previous match against Nagoya, Borys Tashchy, hasn't played for a long time now believed due to a settling issue.


In his absence, Lee Seung-mo has led the line. However, Lee Ho-jae's heroics could see him get a start upfront in this crunch clash. Elsewhere, Alex Grant will be back in the centre of defence. Whereas, top-scorer Lim Sang-hyub is also expected to return to the starting lineup. In that case, either Go Young-joon or Mario Kvesić will drop to the bench.


Nagoya Grampus

Nagoya's preferred formation is also 4-2-3-1. However, Massimo Ficcadenti is unlikely to mirror Pohang's setup in this match. He will probably line up his side in a standard 4-3-3 setup or might even opt for a 4-1-4-1. The only major injury concern for the team is centre-back Yuichi Maruyama due to a cruciate ligament injury. With the ever-present Mitchell Langerak in goal and Shinnosuke Nakatani marshalling the defence, they will have a solid look about them.

Photo Credit: Nagoya Grampus

The tough choices to make for Nagoya will be in the attacking positions. Naoki Maeda is expected to start in the hole behind the striker. There is ample firepower to use in the wide positions, with Mateus, Yuki Soma, Yoichiro Kakitani and Hiroyuki Abe all capable of providing spark whenever needed. The lone striker up top will be Jakub Świerczok.

 

Head-to-Head

Both teams met each other for the first time this year. They were paired together in Group G of this season's AFC Champions League. Both matches had taken place at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok. The first meeting was a comfortable 3-0 victory for Nagoya. Yoichiro Kakitani had put them in front before Shin Kwang-hoon was given his marching orders. Mateus then came off the bench to score a brace and give his team all three points.

Pohang and Nagoya faced each other again in the final group game. Naoki Maeda put Nagoya ahead in the 51st minute. With time running out, Borys Tashchy managed to score a crucial equaliser in the 88th minute. The match ultimately ended in a 1-1 draw, with that point proving to be decisive in Pohang reaching the knockout stages. 



The Adversary

Nagoya Grampus in recent times is known more for their water-tight defence, rather than scoring loads of goals. They have conceded the second-fewest goals in the J.League this season, letting in just 24 goals in 32 matches. Much of this attribute can be credited to their Italian manager Massimo Ficcadenti and of course their brilliant shot-stopper Mitchell Langerak. In the ACL this season, they have conceded just four goals in seven matches.   

Photo Credit: Nagoya Grampus

However, their scoring form on the continental stage has been completely different to that in the league. Nagoya have already managed to find the back of the net 18 times in seven matches. It will be a mammoth task for Pohang against a very well-drilled Nagoya unit. The Japanese outfit are aiming to reach the semi-finals of Asia's premier club competition for only the second time in their history. The last time Nagoya did so was in the year 2009, under the stewardship of club legend Dragan Stojković.   


Who to Watch

Manuel Palacios



With the team often struggling for goals, Manuel Palacios will be an important jigsaw in the Pohang attack. In the Round of 16 match against Cerezo Osaka, Palacios was a constant thorn in the opponent's backline. He also opened his goal tally for the season with a cross-cum-shot effort against Gwangju FC in the previous league match. Palacios' strong running coupled with mazy dribbling is what the Pohang faithful will be hoping to see in full flow on Sunday.    



The Pohang attack also lacks enough experience at the highest level. This is where he could come in so handy. The 28-year-old might be the perfect weapon to unlock the Nagoya defence. Defensively, Palacios' tracking back qualities are also noteworthy. Kim Gi-dong will be hoping that the Colombian winger can once again sparkle on the continental stage and lead his team to a famous triumph on home soil. 



Jakub Świerczok

Photo Credit: Nagoya Grampus

The Polish striker has been an instant hit in the ACL. He made his continental debut with a memorable hat-trick versus Daegu FC in the Round of 16. Jakub Świerczok only arrived in Asia in late July from Piast Gliwice in his native Poland. He came with a great reputation having been the second-highest goal-scorer with 15 goals in the 2020-21 Ekstraklasa. Świerczok has settled in rather quickly. In the J.League also he has scored three goals in nine appearances. The Pohang defence will definitely have to do their homework on how to stop him, or else could face the same fate like Daegu.


The 28-year-old is strong, good in the air and lethal in the box. These are all qualities that a defender hates to face. In fact, such is Świerczok's pedigree that he had started in the absence of Robert Lewandowski for the Poland national team earlier this year. It is his strike which had secured a 1-1 draw against Russia. Therefore, Jakub Świerczok will definitely be one to keep an eye out for as he will be relishing the opportunity to once again light up the ACL stage.   


Shibajee Das
K League United Columnist
Twitter: @Shibagoal


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