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AFC Champions League Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Hanoi FC

Pohang Steelers will travel to Hanoi to kick off their ACL campaign with a match against Hanoi FC. It will be the first meeting between the two clubs since they met in the qualifying stages of the competition in 2016, when current Seongnam man Shim Dong-woon's hat trick was the difference in a 3-0 home victory. Both sides will be motivated to chase three points, for different and similar reasons.

Recent Form

The good times keep on coming for Pohang Steelers, as they look unstoppable in the state that they are in now. They're unbeaten in their last nine matches, taking 19 out of a possible 27 points. Their last loss came June 3, which will be 109 days separated from their ACL opener against Hanoi.

Hosts Hanoi FC, who were last year's V.Lleague 1 champions, finished second this year, finishing behind newly promoted inner-city rivals Cong An Ha Noi FC on goal difference. When the match kicks off on September 20, Hanoi FC will be 24 days removed from their last match, a 3-2 V. League 1 victory over eventual-third place Viettel FC. 

Team News

Participating in the first Champions League campaign in the club's history, Hanoi FC look to make a statement. A translated Vietnamnet article stated that "[Hanoi FC] declared that they would not embarrass Vietnamese football in the AFC Champions League playground." 

In the transfer windows building up to now, they have made an effort to recruit more foreign players. Since AFC's February 2022 decision to expand the foreign player quota from 3+1 to 5+1, Hanoi have gone from having just three foreign players on their books in 2021 to six this year. They have Marcão Silva, Milan Jevtovic, Caion, Brandon Wilson, Damien Le Tallec and Joel Tagueu. Hanoi FC are making sure they have the best team possible, recently going as far as parting ways with Mirlan Murzaev, who had joined just around two and a half months ago.

Given that they've had a break of around 24 days since their last match, match fitness may be an issue, but there are no expected absences from the squad.


Pohang Steelers saw very little change in their last transfer window. Han Chan-hee joined by way of trade, and former academy graduate Hong Yun-sang rejoined his boyhood club and has since gotten off to a running start. 

Unlike their opponents, they are still in both of their domestic competitions (The V. League played its last round on August 27, and Hanoi were knocked out of the Vietnamese Cup) and in good shape. They are second in the league and will play Jeju United in the semifinal of the Korean FA Cup in November. For that reason, it is expected that Pohang may rotate some players in the squad throughout the course of the ACL campaign. 

Shin Kwang-hoon recently returned from injury, but Jung Jae-hee is still unavailable due to a long-term injury. Baek Sung-dong, Sim Sang-min and Kim Yong-hwan are also expected to miss this match due to injury. Pohang will of course be without star player Go Young-joon, who is on international duty at the Asian Games. 

Storylines

As mentioned before, this is Hanoi FC's first time in the AFC Champions League. They'll be the eighth different Vietnamese club to participate in the competition. They've participated in the AFC Cup four times, reaching the quarterfinals (Inter-zone Playoff Semifinals) in 2019. 

They also finished second in V. League 1, meaning they will not qualify for the 2024-2025 ACL unless they win this season's competition. They finished second to cross-town rivals Cong An Ha Noi FC, and were also knocked out in the Round of 16 in the Vietnamese Cup. 

They will have a lot to fight for in their debut ACL campaign. They held a community event on September 9-10 with the message, "Pride of Hanoi. Glory of Vietnam." 

Shim Dong-woon, currently playing for K League 2 side Seongnam FC, scored three goals in Pohang's 2016 win over Hanoi FC.
The last time these two teams met was in 2016, during the qualifying stages of that year's competition. A lot of time has passed since then. Pohang's squad had the likes of Son Jun-ho, Moon Chang-jin, Yang Dong-hyen, Shin Hwa-yong and Shim Dong-woon, who scored a hattrick. The squad also had Kim Kwang-suk, Kang Sang-woo and Lee Gwang-hyeok, three players who have left the club in recent years. 

As for Pohang, they will look to kick off their ACL campaign on the right foot. It's the club's 50th anniversary, and the ACL is one of three competitions in which they have the opportunity to win a trophy.  Pohang's rotation and team selection will be interesting to keep an eye on. South Korea's leagues still operate on a January to December schedule, meaning Pohang, like all other South Korean clubs, will have to adjust to this new ACL calendar. 

Something to keep an eye on not just through both meetings of these two teams but throughout this ACL campaign is how clubs like Hanoi FC adjust to playing in the winter. Their regular season came to an end not long ago, and their seasons typically ended in October, November or earlier in previous seasons. 

Who to Watch

Hanoi FC's captain Van Quyet Nguyen, who has been at the club since 2011, will be one to keep an eye on. The 32 year old was the leading scorer for his side last year with nine goals, despite making just 13 appearances. While the capital side's new players will be interesting to watch, they will likely not be quite up to pace yet. 




For Pohang, Wanderson will be the man to watch. While the club's go-to left back Sim Sang-min has been injured, the winger has played in his place. He's had a bit of a career resurgence, and will be making his ACL debut this season despite being a veteran within the squad. Due to the unexpected nature of rotations and rests in the ACL for sides like Pohang, Wanderson is the closest to a guaranteed starter in this Pohang squad. Oberdan and Zeca could be rested, due to their efforts in the league. 

Expected Lineup

As said before, Hanoi's starting eleven is hard to predict due to all of the incoming and outgoing movement, before and after the V. League season's conclusion. Pohang's lineup is also not easy to predict, but here's what could be expected:

Goalkeeper: Hwang In-jae
Defense: Shin Kwang-hoon, Ha Chang-rae, Alex Grant, Wanderson
Defensive Midfield: Han Chan-hee, Kim Jun-ho
Attacking Midfield: Kim Seung-dae, Yun Min-ho, Hong Yun-sang
Attack: Lee Ho-jae

There is rotation to be expected in defense, particularly since Grant and Ha Chang-rae have been the go-to for so long. Ha Chang-rae's yellow card in the weekend's Suwon FC fixture means that he will miss the Daegu FC trip, meaning it would be in Kim Gi-dong's best interests to rest Grant and use Ha for this match. Oberdan has played every minute of the K League campaign, and a trip to arguable the weakest side in their ACL group is an opportunity to rest him. 

In recent matches, Kim Gi-dong has followed a pattern of starting one or two inexperienced players, such as Hong Yun-sang, Park Hyeong-woo, Yun Min-ho or Kim Jun-ho, and substituting them off at halftime for more experienced players like Kim Jong-woo or Kim In-sung. Kim Gi-dong can pick twelve substitutes to sit on the bench, so he will have a luxury of options to turn to.

Prediction: Pohang 3-1 Hanoi FC

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