Pohang: J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima kept their slim hopes of reaching the last 16 of the AFC Champions League alive after picking a first point of the campaign with a 1-1 draw against Pohang Steelers in Group G on Wednesday.
With a fourth consecutive defeat potentially ending Sanfrecce’s campaign following last week’s 1-0 home defeat by former champions Pohang, Naoki Ishihara opened the scoring for the visitors against the run of play just after the hour mark at The Steelyard.
But Pohang quickly hit back through Hwang Jin-sung to maintain their unbeaten record and sit in second place with games remaining after Bunyodkor beat Beijing Guoan in China to move two points clear at the top of the table.
“It was a very important match in our bid to reach the Round of 16, but we didn’t have enough scoring ability,” said coach Hwang Sun-hong after Pohang’s third draw of the campaign.
“We tried to focus on attacking, but that left space in the defence and Sanfrecce took advantage.
“We will now prepare for the last two games and we must qualify for the Round of 16.”
With Pohang looking to pull clear of fellow Group G leaders Beijing Guoan and Bunyodkor having picked up a first win of the campaign in Japan last week, the home side were on top for the majority of the first half with No Byung-jun and Go Moo-yul both coming close for the 2009 champions with Sanfrecce restricted to occasional attacking forays into the Pohang half.
And Pohang were unlucky not to take the lead in the last minute of the first half as Bae Chun-suk took advantage of hesitation in the Sanfrecce defence only to hit the foot of the post from just inside the area with goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa beaten.
Pohang continued to press for an opener at the start of the second half as Hwang flashed an effort just wide of the upright before Nishikawa produced a double save to deny No.
But a minute after the hour mark Sanfrecce took the lead as Pohang’s attempt to catch the visitors offside from Park Hyung-jin’s free-kick failed, and after the ball was headed back across the face of goal, Ishihara was on hand to sweep home.
Having been left exposed for the opening goal, Shin Hwa-yong then kept Pohang within touching distance as the goalkeeper acrobatically pushed a rising strike from substitute Yojiro Takahagi over the crossbar.
And just five minutes after conceding Pohang hit back as Hwang followed up to convert from close range after No’s shot had been parried by Nishikawa.
Pohang twice went close to completing the comeback in quick succession inside the final 15 minutes but Lee Myung-joo was denied by Nishikawa before Kim Dae-ho flashed a glancing header just wide of the post.
“Our goal was to get three points, but we failed. But I appreciate the efforts of the players who did their best,” said Sanfrecce coach Hajime Moriyasu.
“It is now harder for us to qualify for the Round of 16, but we are professional and we will do our best in the remaining games.”