The defeat signalled not only the Reds’ first in this ACL campaign but was also the first time Pohang have managed to get past the Reds in five attempts.
It took a 68th minute goal from Dae Ho to separate the sides, the home side eventually breaking through a resilient Reds defence after a rare mistake from inspirational United captain and goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic.
Pohang’s win brings them equal with the Reds at the top of the group on six points, while Gamba Osaka's 3-1 win over Bunyodkor in the other match has left Group E wide open at the halfway point of the Group Stage.
Reds coach Luciano Trani always knew the Reds were going to be up against it, and while the result may not have gone in their favour, he was proud of the way they stuck to the task.
“It was one of those difficult games where we defended as well as we expected and against an opposition like that, it’s a credit to the boys,” Trani said.
“Technically all of the Pohang players are sound, if you give them too much space they’ve got the ability to carve you open very quickly and that’s what you get in the AFC Champions League, you’ve got the chance to come up against footballing nations that have technically very sound footballers.”
On a night where the mercury dropped to 6°C and the wind made it bitterly cold, it was always going to be an intriguing battle, with both teams unwilling to give an inch in defence.
Pohang had most of the play and possession in the opening 45 minutes, the Reds content to absorb the pressure and keep it tight and compact at the back in order to give the Steelers’ playmakers little time on the ball in dangerous areas.
The majority of Pohang’s attacks came down the right hand side through their Ghanaian Derek Asamoah, and he ensured Cassio had his hands full in an absorbing one on one duel. But for Pohang’s possession, Galekovic was rarely seriously tested in the first half.
The Reds’ only first half setback came when Dario Vidosic’s night ended in just the 33rd minute after he went down grabbing his troublesome hamstring as he made a searching run down the right.
With the emphasis to ensure numbers in defence, the Reds struggled to create any clear openings themselves, Bruce Djite getting a torrid time from Pohang’s defensive pairing of Zoran Rendulic and Kwang Suk.
A run into the penalty area produced the Reds’ most threatening move in the 58th minute, the Reds showing they were up for the fight and not about to crack easily.
However, a touch of fortune for the Steelers and a misfortune for Galekovic and the Reds saw Pohang get the goal they were after in the 68th minute.
From a free kick just outside the penalty area, Jin Sung tried to curl a left footed free kick inside Galekovic’s near post. The Reds gloveman appeared to have the ball covered but uncharacteristically, he fumbled the ball right next to the post and Dae Ho managed to tuck the ball into the net from an acute angle.
For all of the times Galekovic has come to the Reds’ rescue with brilliant saves in the AFC Champions League, it seemed almost an injustice that his rare mistake would get punished.
In the 82nd minute Pohang missed a chance to ice the cake when substitute Park Sungho’s ball across an empty goal face went untouched, which gave the Reds one last opportunity to snatch an equaliser. Despite two in swinging Cassio free kicks at the death, the Reds could not find a goal.
Adelaide United’s squad will return home and has a fortnight to work on a way to try and unlock a technically superior Pohang outfit at Hindmarsh Stadium on April 18. Tickets for the match are available through Ticketek.
“The boys now know what’s required and that’s a real motivation to go back home and give ourselves a chance to make amends for what happened tonight,” Trani said.
Pohang Steelers 1 (Dae Ho 68’)
Adelaide United FC 0
Referee: Khalil Al Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia)
Crowd: 2,833 @ Pohang Steelyard
Pohang Steelers line-up: 31.DA SOL (gk), 2.HEE CHUL, 3.KWANG SUK, 7.Zoran RENDULIC, 8.JIN SUNG (9.JI SOO 87’), 10.Derek ASAMOAH, 14.TAE SU (26.CHAN HO 55’), 18.MOO YUL (11.Park SUNGHO 68’), 20.HYUNG MIN (c), 24.DAE HO, 27.Iainis ZICU
Substitutes not used: 1.HWA YONG (gk), 5.WON JAE, 13.WON IL, 22.BYUNG JUN
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
Adelaide United line-up: 1.Eugene GALEKOVIC (gk) (c), 2.Osama MALIK, 3.Nigel BOOGAARD, 4.Jon McKAIN, 5.Daniel MULLEN, 6.CASSIO, 7.Zenon CARAVELLA, 10.Dario VIDOSIC (18.Fabian BARBIERO 39’), 11.Bruce DJITE, 17.Iain RAMSAY (23.Evan KOSTOPOULOS 81’), 21.Francisco USUCAR (9.Sergio VAN DIJK 72’)
Substitutes not used: 20.Mark BIRIGHITTI (gk), 22.Iain FYFE
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil