Denilson fires Steelers into semis
© AFP

Pohang Steelers will face Estudiantes in the UAE 2009 semi-finals after recovering a half-time deficit to beat TP Mazembe 2-1. Mbenza Bedi’s superb strike had given the African champions the advantage, but Denilson’s second-half double swung the game in the Asian kings' favour.

The game exploded into life, with Mazembe’s Mabi Mputu drawing the first gasps from the crowd with an intricate dummy straight from kick-off. That same player created the first chance with just minutes on the clock, dancing his way into the Pohang box and cutting the ball back for Dioko Kaluyituka. The latter's effort was blocked and when it feel kindly to Kazembe Mihayo inside a congested area, he scuffed his shot.

Minutes later, a teasing cross from Mulota Kabangu was met by the leaping Amia Ekanga, who did well to win the ball but was unable to keep it down. Kim Jae-Sung then registered Pohang’s first attempt on target, albeit with the help of a deflection, but Muteba Kidiaba pushed the ball out for a corner, which duly came to nothing. Ekanga then failed to connect properly with a header, after a right-wing corner found him unmarked, eight yards out.

Midway through the first half, a No Byung-Jun free-kick destined for the top corner was superbly tipped around the post by Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba. The opening goal was, nevertheless, scored at the opposite end on 28 minutes. Mputu’s crafty pass gave Bedi a sight on goal, and his fierce shot from 25 yards crept just inside Shin Hwa-Yong’s right-hand upright.

Pohang immediately took the ascendancy and began the carve their opponents open at will. First, Denilson turned exquisitely and slid a defence-splitting pass through to Namkung Do, who raced goalwards but struck tamely into the hands of Kidiaba.

Denilson then went close with a header, Do fluffed another opportunity following a scramble in the Mazembe area, and Kim Jae-Sung missed a great opportunity after bursting into the Africans’ 18-yard box. The half-time whistle, which followed moments later, certainly came as welcome relief for Didier Garzitto's side.

Pohang began the second half strongly, and only the alertness and bravery of Kidiaba denied No a great chance four on 49 minutes. Mazembe failed to heed that early warning. Soon it was 1-1, with No’s cross nodded home from six yards by Denilson, who thus showcased the bizarre celebration which he had promised.

No’s sharp, elusive movement was causing his adversaries incessant problems, and he was only inches away from getting on the end of Hwang Jae-Won’s through-ball on 56 minutes.

Mazembe, out of nothing, almost regained the lead thereafter. Ekanga sent Kabangu racing clear, but he shot narrowly wide from just inside the box. Steelers substitute Hwang Jin-Sung then spurned a wonderful opening to give his team the advantage, shooting tamely into the arms of Kidiaba when clean through on goal.

Fortunately for Pohang, Denilson did not make the same mistake from a similar position on 78 minutes, the Brazilian No10 firing his side in front. Mazembe went in search of an equaliser, but their opponents appeared the fresher side and had little trouble running down the clock.

Sergio Farias's charges will now look forward to a last-four contest against Estudiantes, while Garzitto must prepare his troops for the fifth-place play-off against either Auckland City or Atlante.