HIROSHIMA – J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima are in danger of first-round elimination in the Asian Champions League after suffering their third consecutive defeat in a 1-0 loss to South Korea’s Pohang Steelers on Tuesday.
Bae Chun Suk scored the only goal midway through the opening half for Pohang, who secured their first victory in Group G and will host Hiroshima in their next match on April 10.
The J. League’s reigning MVP and top scorer Hisato Sato lamented the result as well as the performance of Sanfrecce, who also went out in the group phase in their only other Champions League appearance in 2010.
“It’s obviously very disappointing,” Sato said. “We conceded what I thought was a soft goal and weren’t accurate enough when we had the chances. You’ve got to do better than what we did when you’re at home.”
In Group E, Vegalta Sendai suffered their first defeat in a 2-1 away loss to FC Seoul, a result that also left the Tohoku club winless through three games.
Kim Jin Kyu’s 22nd-minute strike proved to be decisive, with former Urawa Reds striker Sergio Escudero opening the scoring after five minutes.
Wilson pulled one back for Vegalta three minutes to time but they came up short. Makoto Teguramori’s side welcome Seoul to Sendai next week.
Sanfrecce went into the game as one of only three teams in the entire competition without a single point, and had been pinning their hopes of a breakthrough against the Korean F.A. Cup holders.
Hiroshima and Pohang had met before in the ACL three years ago, with each team winning at home in the group phase.
But on a wet evening at Edion Stadium, the visitors did not need much time to find the net, going up after 17 minutes as Bae struck from a left-wing Ko Moo Yul cross.
Pohang, coached by former J. League standout Hwang Sun Hong, was in control for most of the game and did especially well to neutralize Sato, who had netted for the first time this season with a brace in Sanfrecce’s 4-0 win over 10-man Shimizu S-Pulse at the weekend.
Hiroshima was not helped by the early departure of holding midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama, who had to be stretchered off in the 13th minute with a left-knee injury.
Hajime Moriyasu’s men linked better in the second half, but the Steelers held down the fort, denying the hosts a clear-cut opportunity to equalize before the final whistle.
“We’re in a difficult situation now but we have to do everything we can to win the remaining three games and hope that we can qualify for the second round,” Sato said.