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Lee strike steers Pohang Steelers into AFC Champions League quarter-finals


Osaka: Lee Seung-mo’s close range strike took Pohang Steelers into the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League for the first time in seven years as Kim Gi-dong’s side handed Cerezo Osaka a 1-0 defeat at Nagai Stadium on Wednesday evening.

Lee pounced to stab the ball in after Sin Jin-ho’s corner had been directed into his path by Jeon Min-kwang and the striker made no mistake, silencing the home fans and keeping Pohang’s hopes of a record fourth continental title on track.

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Cerezo welcomed Takashi Inui back into their starting line-up for his first game in this year’s AFC Champions League after the winger rejoined the club after over a decade in European football, but the former Japan international was unable to steer Osaka into the last eight for the first time since 2011.

Pohang started on the front foot and the pacey Manuel Palacios almost opened up the home defence in the 17th minute when he was sent free down the right channel by Shin Jin-ho’s ball forward from deep. The Colombian outstripped Koji Toriumi before finding himself in position to shoot goalward, but keeper Kim Jin-hyeon was able to block with his legs.

Eight minutes later, though, Pohang took the lead. Sin’s corner from the right was flicked on by Jeon and Lee reacted quickest, forcing the ball over the line from two yards out to give the K-League side a deserved advantage.

Cerezo fought to find a way back into the game with Riki Harakawa and Adam Taggart both denied while Inui saw his effort saved by Kang Hyeon-mu as Pohang’s defending grew increasingly desperate.

The visitors, though, could have doubled their lead in the 64th minute when Lee Seung-mo saw his attempt cleared off the line by Riku Matsuda with goalkeeper Kim nowhere to be seen after making an earlier effort to deny the Pohang attack.

Substitute Yoshito Okubo then linked up with Inui, only for the former Eibar winger to steer his diving header harmlessly wide before the ex-Japan international delivered a corner that had the defence scrambling.

But Toriumi fired narrowly wide from close range to leave Pohang hanging on for the win and a place in the next round.

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