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(2nd LD) S. Korean clubs go winless at AFC Champions League

All Headlines 22:39 April 05, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS coaches' comments throughout)
By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- Two South Korean clubs in action both went winless at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League Tuesday.

FC Seoul were held to a scoreless draw by Shandong Luneng of China at Seoul World Cup Stadium as their three-match winning streak in Group F came to an end.

Earlier Tuesday, Pohang Steelers fell to Sydney FC 1-0 at Sydney Football Stadium in Group H action.

At Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, both sides exchanged shots, but failed to score in regulation or added time. Despite the draw, FC Seoul remains atop Group F with 10 points, while Shandong moves to seven points in second place.

Seoul, which beat Shandong 4-1 in their first meeting last month in Jinan, China, started with their usual 3-5-2 formation, putting two foreign strikers Carlos Adriano and Dejan Damjanovic upfront.

With both sides trying to score first, Seoul's Spaniard captain Osmar Barba nearly put the hosts in front in the 16th minute, but his right-footed volley slammed into the post.

Adriano, who has a tournament-leading nine goals, came to life midway through the first half. His first strike in the 29th from outside the box went straight to Shandong goalkeeper Wang Dalei's hands, and his second effort two minutes later from Yojiro Takahagi's cross was also on the target but failed to find the net.

But Shandong, winless in their previous six AFC Champions League (ACL) matches in South Korea, almost pulled off an opener in the 33rd when Brazilian midfielder Jucilei missed the net wide with a header.

Entering the second half without a goal, Seoul geared up their attack with Damjanovic taking a couple of shots early, but didn't produce threatening moments. But the visitors didn't test Seoul either, and they even had to replace forward Diego Tardelli in the 71st as the Brazilian fell down with an apparent injury.

Seoul midfielder Ko Kwang-min nearly broke the deadlock in the 73rd, but his unmarked right-footed shot in the box went wide. Three minutes later, Damjanovic's carefully measured strike to the net was blocked by Shandong defenders.

Seoul sent in striker Park Chu-young, coming off a double in the domestic K League Classic over the weekend, in the 80th for the late goal. Seoul, which had the tournament-best 14 goals in three previous ACL matches, put another striker, Yun Ju-tae, into the match in the 87th. They threatened the visitors with corner kicks in added time, but failed to beat Shandong's defense.

FC Seoul put five shots on the net against Shandong's one. The South Korean club will next host Buriram United on April 20.

Seoul head coach Choi Yong-soo lamented that his club couldn't confirm their berth at the knockout stage. A victory would have clinched Seoul's berth in the round of 16 regardless of the two remaining Group F matches, and Choi said that this possibility actually made his players rush on the pitch.

"Our players lacked a delicate finishing touch in front of the net," he said. "The match taught us that a single scoring chance can be important when the opponents are sitting back on defense."

Choi, however, said it was a positive that the players displayed aggressive plays like they have been throughout the season. He acknowledged that Seoul are now in the driver's seat in their group, but will not let their guard down till the end. Choi has previously said he wants to advance to the knockout stage as the group winner.

"If we can't get a satisfying result at home, we will be in a difficult situation in the end," he said. "Since we also have to play in the domestic league, I'll have to figure out the best plan to use our players."

Shandong head coach Mano Menezes said that the match turned out as he'd expected. The Brazilian admitted that they emphasized defense, and the players executed well in a tough away match.

"Seoul went aggressive, but we managed to play the game as we planned," he said. "Last time, we had an inferior game to Seoul's, but today we were able to narrow that gap."

In Australia, Milos Ninkovic scored the match's lone goal early in the second half, as Sydney FC improved to nine points to remain at the top of Group H.

Pohang dropped to third place with one win, one draw and two losses at the continent's top club competition.

This was the K League Classic club's second consecutive loss to Sydney FC in the group stage; the Australian club had won their previous meeting 1-0 on March 16.

Pohang's next contest will be against Guangzhou Evergrande at home on April 19. The top two teams from each of the eight groups will reach the knockout stage.

Neither side mounted much of an attack in the opening half hour or so until Pohang's Park Jun-hui got a shot off from the top of the box in the 29th.

Sydney broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half by taking advantage of a shoddy Pohang defense. Ninkovic took control of the ball just outside the area and was allowed to walk in alone. He was surrounded by three Pohang defenders, who made shoddy efforts to clear the ball out of the way. It gave Ninkovic enough time and space to poke one past goalkeeper Kim Jin-young.

Pohang remained ineffective on offense, and it was all Sydney FC the rest of the evening.

The Australian club looked to double the lead and had a glorious chance in the 73rd, with Matthew Jurman's rocket of a shot stopped by diving goalkeeper Kim.

Three minutes later David Carney broke free for a chance, but his effort went wide of the post. George Blackwood took his crack in stoppage time, but Kim in Pohang's net denied him from close range.

Pohang failed to record a shot on target, while Sydney had five.

Pohang head coach Choi Jin-cheul said the team was having a difficult match after a lot of travel. He lamented that the players were getting tired in the second half.

"In the first half, we played well," he said. "But in the second half, the players started to show problems in stamina after the long flight."

The coach, however, said that it is too early to give up their hopes of reaching the knockout stage.

"We need to collect points as much as we can," he said. "We will put forward our best efforts till the last (group) match."

kdon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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