Adelaide United FC has qualified for the next phase of the AFC Champions League 2010 after escaping with a nil-all draw against the Pohang Steelers at the Steelyard in Korea in Match Day 5 of the competition.
Needing a point to guarantee a spot in the Round of 16, the Reds found themselves under siege against the reigning ACL champions for the majority of the 90 minutes, but a gritty resolve coupled with a host of missed chances from the home side saw United progress through to the next round.
United remains unbeaten against Pohang in the teams’ four encounters after the scoreless draw, the record even more impressive by the fact that the K-League giants are yet to find a way past goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic and score against the Reds.
The result, which also sends Pohang into the next round, keeps the Reds at the top of Group H with the final match day of the Group Stage to decide whether United can uphold its position and gain a home fixture in the one off Round of 16 encounter.
The only sour note to come out of the Reds’ achievement is that Lucas Pantelis, Daniel Mullen and Adam Hughes will all be unavailable for the final group stage match at home against China’s Shandong Luneng in a fortnight after they each received their second yellow card of the competition.
Trying to oust United from top spot, Pohang will wonder how they failed to find the back of United’s net for the fourth straight occasion as time and again they created openings only to squander the finishing touch.
In slippery and blustery conditions, it was all the home side in the first 15 minutes as United’s defence found itself under siege, Brazilian Almir the chief instigator of the Steelers’ chances but they could not steer their efforts on target.
Almir and fellow Brazilian Mota were posing problems for the Reds and on the half hour they combined but Galekovic was awake to the threat as he caused Mota to dive theatrically over him in the hope of winning a penalty as he was through on goal, but it was to no avail.
United’s most threatening build up of the opening 45 minutes came when Mullen found some rare space out wide on the right before sending a tantalising cross in behind the Pohang defence, but there were no takers for the Reds to make the most of the chance.
The Steelers continued to dominate, manufacturing 10 shots in the opening half to United’s solitary attempt, Scott Jamieson and Pantelis finding themselves going into the referee’s book just before half time as it was predominantly one way traffic in the opening 45 minutes.
A more composed United outfit reappeared after the break as Sergio van Dijk continued to play a lone role up front, but it was still the home side that seemed the more likely to break the deadlock.
Almir sent a header over the bar from a free kick in the 58th minute before Shin Hyung-min was denied soon after as his shot found Galekovic’s left post.
Mathew Leckie was introduced just after the hour mark, but despite some promising build ups, neither he nor his teammates could find a way through Pohang’s defence.
With time ticking away, the game continued to be a case of whether the Reds could keep Pohang at bay to the final whistle. Although there were a few more hair-raising moments for United to deal with late on, the 2008 ACL finalists held on to progress past the AFC Champions League Group Stage for the second time in three attempts.
Coach Aurelio Vidmar was happy with the result despite his charges being under siege for most of the game, and the Reds boss looks forward to the final Group Stage match against Shandong Luneng at Hindmarsh Stadium on April 27 as the Reds try to clinch top spot and a home clash in the Round of 16.
The squad arrives back in Adelaide at 9.45am on Thursday morning (April 15).
For more information on the Reds see www.adelaideunited.com.au