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Match Recap: Incheon United v Hai Phong FC

Incheon United are through to the group stages of the AFC Champions League for the very first time. They were taken to extra-time by Hai Phong but goals from Hernandes and Gerso sealed their spot in the continent's premier club tournament.


Incheon United 3-1 Hai Phong FC

This game was closer than many would have expected. Hai Phong took an early lead and even though Incheon responded by the 17th minute, they were unable to break down their obdurate opponents in a largely frustrating performance. This will matter little to the players and fans, who can now dust down their passports and get ready for trips on foreign land.

The teams

Incheon United understandably rolled out the big names for their first foray into ACL football. The returning hero Stefan Mugosa, fresh from his goal at the weekend, led the line alongside Cheon Seong-hoon. Kang Yun-koo and Jeong Dong-yoon provided the width down the flanks.

At the back, familiar faces Kim Dong-heon, Oh Ban-suk, Kim Dong-min, and Harrison Delbridge looked to keep the visiting Vietnamese team out. Delbridge's recent appearance on K League United, discussing Mugosa's shocking return, is still worth a listen.


First half

In the lead up to the game, Harrison Delbridge spoke to Paul Neat and reminded us all that victory was not a foregone conclusion. Buoyed on by a loud and frenzied home crowd, Incheon started well but that lasted all of six minutes when Yuri Mamute rifled home against the run of play. The tiny Vietnamese contingent behind the north goals celebrated as you would expect.

For the next few minutes, all the 50-50 calls went against Incheon and frustration began to creep into their play. Their body language suggested this wasn't going as expected, although Delbridge admitted in the build-up that his team weren't able to access the sort of scouting on the opposition as they'd normally be used to.

Mamute was clearly the dangerman. The striker, who you might describe as burly, was posing a major physical threat to Incheon's rearguard and he was key to the visitors staying in the game.

Fortunately for Incheon, Hai Phong's lead didn't last long. The dangerous Mpoku found Mugosa at the edge of the box, and his perfectly placed cross was steered home by Cheon Seong-hoon from six yards. Mugosa swiveled away and his fist-pump towards the bench was probably a release of tension, as much as anything else.

With nerves settled, Incheon began to display their best football of the half with the combination of Mugosa and Mpoku, down the left side, particularly threatening. One exchange almost led to a penalty after Mpoku was flattened a split second after Hai Phong's defender cleared the ball. The resulting corner kicks didn't lead to a clear chance at goal but Incheon were clearly purring.

Or so we thought. The pace dropped considerably after the short flurry of corners with Incheon surrendering possession and territory during a bizarre spell of play just before half-time. Hai Phong had near exclusive rights to the ball and this unexpected period of dominance led Bicou Bissainthe heading against the crossbar with Kim beaten in goal. From the next phase of play, captain Nguyen Hai Huy lacked the power to head his free header on target.

Hai Phong visibly grew in confidence as the seconds ticked down and it was Incheon who were the more relieved to discover a single minute of additional time would be played.

Second half

Almost as soon as the players exited the field, the forecasted deluge arrived. Incheon's substitutes abandoned their warm-up and made for the tunnel. The away fans, in the uncovered North Stand, disappeared and the home fans who stayed in their seats were now wearing ponchos. The rain was intense and threatened to make a pitch, already brown in parts, extremely difficult to play on.

Incheon manager Cho Sung-hwan made two changes at the break. Goalscorer Cheon and midfielder Mun Ji-hwan made way for Kim Do-hyeok and Gerso Fernandes respectively. Gerso immediately caused problems, but his powerful drive was well saved by the goalkeeper. Delbridge then saw his header palmed away and suddenly the atmosphere had changed entirely.

Gerso even found time to rile up the home fans before a corner, with the resulting noise nearly blowing the roof off the stands. His pace then opened up the Hai Phong defense but his shot from 18 yards sailed wide of the post. Every tackle was celebrated wildly, every block cheered from every corner of the ground, it was proving impossible for the Hai Phong defense and assembled media writing match reports to keep up with Gerso's electric introduction.

But just like in the first half, when it felt like Incheon were gonna push on and make their dominance clear, the weren't able to sustain their energy and Hai Phong, who had done well to stay in the game to this point, almost snatched the lead when Yuri's free header dropped wide. Minutes later, they dependable Delbridge was turned by Joseph who raced clear but couldn't find the killer pass.

The moment of the match arrived with 10 minutes to go. Mugosa's header was well-saved by the keeper and when the rebound fell to the Montenegrin, again the found the keeper in top form. The goalkeeper, for his part, then assumed the role of pantomime villain riling up the home fans by taking his time on kick outs and going down injured several times.

both teams won free kicks during the seven additional minutes but they amounted to nothing. Incredibly the game went to extra time, much to the frustration of everyone inside the stadium.

Extra Time

At the start of the game, I didn't expect to add this paragraph. However, extra time was no more than Hai Phong. They rode their luck at time but they created two glorious chances in each half after the opening goal and in Yuri, they had the game's most dangerous player.

Soon, Incheon would finally take the lead for the first time. As the rain began to tumble again, Mugosa fed Gerso on the left and his first time cross, across the face of goal, was coolly dispatched by Hernandes. The reaction of the Incheon players to the goal, with most sprawled out on the turf and others without the energy to celebrate with the goal scorer, spoke to how energy sapping and taxing this game had been.

The second half was a touch watch. Understandably, both teams looked out on their feet as the rain continued to fall.

Fittingly, it was left to Gerso to apply the final touch. Chasing down a lost cause and harrying the goalkeeper led to an intercept and a euphoric sprint towards the empty net from 40 yards. Gerso was celebrating before the ball hit the back of the net. It'll go down as one of the most iconic moments in the stadium's history.

And with that, it was over. Incheon United are in the AFC Champions League.


The fans

Incheon's support was, as expected, loud, boisterous and vocal on their first appearance in this competition. The impact of the half-time substitutions raised the noise even further, as did their reaction to Hai Phong's goalkeeper using his experience to eat up valuable seconds by frequently going down injured in the last 15 minutes. He was roundly booed in the closing stages.

I had no idea what to expect from the traveling support but a rough estimate but their number at around 40. They brought one flag and generally sang and chanted their way through the entire game. The unique construction at Sangui Arena meant that once the rain came, they were hardest hit in the only uncovered stand. Looked like a fun time.

Up next

Not ideally after a grueling game, Incheon are back in action this coming Friday when they make the short trip south to Suwon FC hoping to keep their top 6 hopes alive. Second-placed Pohang Steelers then visit Incheon Football Stadium the following week.

Attendance: 5,206

Best player: Stefan Mugoša

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