Pohang Hwang In-jae’s brilliant defense as the main player in the FA Cup from relegation

In the end, history repeated itself. The Pohang Steelers pulled off a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Jeonbuk Hyundai to end a decade-long drought.

On April 4 at 2:15 p.m., the Pohang Steelers and Jeonbuk Hyundai met in the final match of the ‘2023 Hana OneQ FA Cup’ at the Pohang Steel Yard, and Pohang showed an insane offensive performance against Jeonbuk, scoring three goals in the second half to complete a perfect 4-2 upset. After conceding an early goal to Jeonbuk’s Song Min-gyu in the 15th minute, Pohang equalized in the 43rd minute through Han Chan-hee.레모나토토

After conceding a penalty kick at the start of the second half when Shin Kwang-hoon fouled Jeon Woo-jae in the penalty box, Pohang went behind to Gustavo in the fifth minute of the second half, but they fought back to equalize. In the 28th minute, Zeca took advantage of a mistake by the Jeonbuk defense to tie the game with a perfect right-footed volley, and four minutes later, Kim Jong-woo took the lead with his left foot after a perfect ball touch.

After the reversal, Pohang gained momentum and just before the end of the second half, Pohang’s Hong Yun-sang scored a wedge goal with a right-footed shot that perfectly neutralized the Jeonbuk defense, and after exploding for three goals in the second half, Pohang smiled as they won the championship for the first time in 10 years after the 2013 season double (League + FA Cup). Pohang’s power in the final was immense. Pohang was backed into a corner after conceding an early goal, but Pohang coach Kim Ki-dong’s tactical point of attacking Jeonbuk at the right time was the highlight of the game, with players from the starting lineup and substitutes performing as if they were in sync to lead Pohang to victory.

In addition to Han Chan-hee, who scored the first goal, Kim Seung-dae, Kim Jong-woo, Zeca, and Hong Yoon-sang were dazzling in attack, while Park Seung-wook, Ha Chang-rae, and Grant were fantastic in defense, and Hwang In-jae, the unsung hero of Pohang’s FA Cup victory, was also outstanding.

Last year’s K League promotion playoffs pitted Daejeon Hana Citizens, who finished second in the K League 2, against Gimcheon Commerce, who finished 11th in the K League 1. In the first leg in Daejeon, Daejeon defeated Gimcheon 2-1 with back-to-back goals from Cho Yoo-min and Jo Se-jong, and in the second leg in Gimcheon, Daejeon exploded for a whopping four goals to defeat Gimcheon and earn promotion to League 1.

In the midst of Gimcheon’s heartbreaking relegation, Hwang In-jae, the main goalkeeper, conceded six goals in the playoffs and had to watch his team’s demise as he made fatal mistakes in the first and second rounds. After the team’s relegation, Hwang In-jae said goodbye to Gwangju and Gimcheon and returned to his home team, the Pohang Steelers, but the label of “goalkeeper who relegated the team” could not be removed.

There weren’t many people who saw Hwang In-jae’s position as solid upon his return to Pohang. Not only was there a void left by the departure of Kang Hyun-moo, who had been the main goalkeeper, to join Gimcheon Commerce at the end of last season, but there was also Yoon Pyeong-guk, who had been a stalwart in goal alongside Kang for the past two seasons and hadn’t started a single season since his professional debut with Gwangju FC in 2016. Since the start of the season, however, Hwang In-jae has been Pohang’s goalkeeper of choice. The goalkeeper, who had played just 18 league games in his professional career, and was one of the worst performers in last season’s relegation playoffs, has turned things around since the start of the 2023 season, leading the team’s rise to prominence.

After starting in goal for Pohang from the opening round, Hwang In-jae began to anchor Pohang’s backline with his excellent reflexes and positioning. After establishing himself as Pohang’s main goalkeeper with his steady saves in the league, Hwang In-jae began to put in impressive performances in the FA Cup. After making an incredible save in the FA Cup Round of 16 against Seongnam FC to secure a 3-0 victory, Hwang In-jae conceded an early goal against Gangwon FC in the quarterfinals, but he remained focused and kept his side in the game. Later, back-to-back goals from Zeca and Park Chan-yong helped Pohang reach the FA Cup quarterfinals for the first time in three years.

After reaching the quarterfinals, Pohang faced Jeju United, who were looking to win their first title. After conceding an early goal to Seo Jin-soo in the 42nd minute of the first leg, Pohang equalized with a fantastic volley from Kim In-sung in the 14th minute of the second leg. The match went to penalty kicks, and Pohang’s Hwang In-Jae was the hero. With the score tied at 2-2 after a miss by Pohang Zeca, the first kicker, and a miss by Jeju Lim Chae-min, the second kicker, he blocked a shot by Kim Oh-kyu, the fourth kicker of Jeju, to bring the momentum back to Pohang. Han Chan-hee and Lee Ho-jae then converted back-to-back penalty kicks to secure Pohang’s first final appearance in a decade with Hwang In-jae making an incredible save.

Their final opponents were Jeonbuk Hyundai, the same team they faced in the 2013 final. With a recent record of three wins, one draw, and one loss in official matches, Jeonbuk was on an upward trajectory and had just blasted three goals against Incheon in the quarterfinals, suggesting that attacking soccer was back on track. Indeed, in the final against Jeonbuk, Pohang found themselves on the wrong end of Jeonbuk’s pressure and attacks throughout the first half. In fact, after conceding an early goal to Jeonbuk’s Song Min-kyu in the 15th minute, Pohang had numerous chances to add to their lead, but were relieved by a super save from Hwang In-jae.

In the 10th minute of the first half, Hwang In-jae saved a one-on-one situation with Jeonbuk’s Han Gyo-won with crazy reflexes, and in the 12th minute, he saved a powerful free kick from Baek Seung-ho, and in the 26th minute, he saved a sharp shot from Han Gyo-won. Hwang In-jae was able to keep his side in the match without conceding another goal after a strong early attack from Jeonbuk. After conceding a penalty kick to Gustavo at the start of the second half, Hwang In-jae steadied the ship by stopping Baek Seung-ho’s shot eight minutes into the second half, shutting down Jeonbuk’s attack and helping Pohang win their first FA Cup in 10 years.

For Hwang In-jae, who helped Pohang’s miraculous comeback by saving countless chances in the first half and early part of the second half when Jeonbuk’s attack was fierce, winning the FA Cup was a moment when he shed the stigma of being the main goalkeeper of a relegated team a year ago and stood proudly as the main goalkeeper of an FA Cup winner. In the league, Hwang In-jae has started every game and has been one of the main contributors to the team’s third-lowest conceded goals (37), and he is considered to be the goalkeeping giant for Pohang in the future.

After turning question marks into exclamation points in the 2023 season with his stunning performances in the league and FA Cup, Hwang In-jae’s eyes are now set on winning the League’s Best 11 alongside Pohang’s steady second-place finish in the league.

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