There was no shortage of incident in Tuesday’s first semi-final at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, with Pohang Steelers having three players sent off in the course of their 2-1 defeat by Estudiantes.
Although the South Koreans suffered their first dismissal in the 56th minute and had to deal with further expulsions on 72 and 77 minutes, they still proved difficult to break down and briefly threatened an improbable comeback when Denilson halved the deficit with some 20 minutes remaining. Pohang performed impressively throughout, demonstrating a never-say-die attitude that Choi Hyu-Jin was keen to highlight when FIFA.com caught up with him after the game.
“Despite their numerical advantage, the eight of us left out there refused to throw in the towel and tried our best to get back into the match," he said. "The number of players we had didn’t matter – we still wanted to win.”
The midfielder also spoke about his changing role during the game. “I started as a defender but when we lost three players after the break I had to move into the middle, while also operating as a makeshift striker,” he explained.
Choi believes that the result of the match could have been very different. “The game was very evenly balanced in the first half," he said. "I believe that if we hadn’t conceded in first-half stoppage time, the second period would’ve been very different. For a start all the pressure would’ve been on Estudiantes, which could have given us the advantage.”
Pohang team-mate Kim Taesu echoed Choi's sentiments. “The first goal was the turning point, together with the red cards we received after the break, which obviously affected us a lot," opined the midfielder. "If we’d gone in level, you’d have seen a very different second half.”
Kim also felt the raft of red and yellow cards his players collected owed more to his side’s commitment than anything else: “Estudiantes are a very good team, and our guys had to be strong and try to put them under pressure. Unfortunately, in so doing we picked up a lot of cards.”
The final word went to the 28-year-old, who insisted that numerical disadvantage not belief was what finally put paid to their chances on Tuesday. “After Denilson scored to make it 2-1, we really believed we could get back into the game," he said. "However, our hopes were finally dashed when we had a third player sent of. Try as we might, we just didn’t have it in us to turn things around after that.”