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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Daegu FC - Kicking Off With The Gyeongbuk Derby

Both teams had significant seasons in 2022, for one reason or another. Pohang Steelers finished third, good enough for AFC Champions League football, while Daegu FC finished ninth, barely enough to avoid the relegation playoffs. Both sides of the Gyeongbuk Derby will hope to start off 2023 on a high note, and there are plenty of  Daegu FC travels around 73 kilometers to the Pohang Steelyard on Matchday 1.

How Pohang Steelers Ended 2022

The Steelers entered the colder months of the year on a bit of a stumble, perhaps due to their fate being sealed as AFC Champions League qualifiers. In their final five matches of the season, which took place in the K League's Final A, they won one game, drew two and lost two. Entering the split final phase of the season, the Steelers were six points behind second and 11 behind top-of-the-table Ulsan, and six points ahead of next-best Incheon United. While the post-split table does put the club up against tougher opposition, the club's position being practically sealed saw the club field weaker sides, including youngsters.

How Daegu FC Ended 2022

Daegu played the final phase of the 2022 season in Final B. Before the split, they were just one point above the relegation zone, meaning that the final phase's six games would be crucial to them staying in K League 1 in 2023. They did exactly what they needed to do, winning three games and drawing two to finish two points above Suwon Samsung Bluewings, who survived relegation but had to play a two-legged draw against K League 2 side Anyang FC.

What to Watch: The Storyline On and Off the Field

Both teams have added plenty of new faces in a busy transfer market, with Daegu FC being the first Korean side to make use of the K League's new 5+1 foreigner rule. Excluding AFC players Keita Suzuki (Japan) and Alex Grant (Australia), all foreign players on the field will be Brazilian. Daegu is well-known for having plenty of talented Brazilian players, with their captain Cesinha having been a centerpiece of the team since 2016. Pohang has spent this past offseason crafting their own band of Brazilian players, with the most significant name being none other than Zeca.

Zeca, a striker that spent 2022 on loan at Daegu, completed a winter transfer to Pohang, which will no doubt be one of the most entertaining storylines to follow. He's reportedly been nursing a minor injury throughout training camp but was able to play in a training match as recently as February 11th. Keep an eye on Zeca and his former Brazilian teammates.

Head to Head

Due to Pohang and Daegu finishing in different groups post-split, they only met three times last season in the K League. The first two meetings resulted in 1-1 and 2-2 draws, but the last was a 4-1 runaway for Pohang. The two teams also met in the FA Cup, where Daegu won 3-2. Historically, the Gyeongbuk Derby has taken place 54 times. There have been 23 Pohang wins, 17 draws and 14 Daegu wins. Their meetings just in the K League are also tight, with the 44 meetings resulting in 18 Pohang wins, 15 draws and 11 Daegu wins. 

Pohang has won their last three season openers, and four of their last five. Meanwhile, Daegu has not won a season opener since 2016, when they were still in the K League Challenge, Korea's second division at the time. In the six years since gaining promotion, Daegu has drawn three times and lost three.

What to Expect from Pohang

Expect a strong start, but also expect more or less the same. Kim Gi-dong's 4-2-3-1 is a guarantee, but who starts where is the biggest question. Against a side like Daegu, expect attackers to press and midfielders to cycle the ball more, as opposed to trying to strike on the counter.

Pohang's midfield will be the focal point not just for this opening match but for the entire 2023 season. Losing captain Shin Jin-ho and replacing him will have a great influence on Pohang's performances this season.

What to Expect from Daegu

Muyeol Jung, K League United's Daegu FC columnist, says that their lineup shouldn't be too surprising or experimental, and should be very similar to what's been shown before. Additionally, Kim Hee-seung is with the U20 National Team for the U20 Asian Cup.

It would be too easy to say that new signings are who to watch, so Daegu's player to watch will be a (sort of) new signing. Brazilian striker Edgar will be attracting a lot of eyes while on the field. Before his injury in March 2022, having scored 50 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions for Daegu since his arrival in 2018. 


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