Nagoya Grampus’ pursuit of continental glory came to an end on Sunday with a 3-0 loss to Pohang Steelers in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League. The draw sent Nagoya to the Republic of Korea for the one-legged tie and Grampus were unable to come away with the away win.
The match could have been very different had Nagoya been able to break through in the first half. They were the better side in the opening phase and nearly scored on one brilliant move, but Jakub Świerczok had a surefire goal cleared off the line before Pohang goalkeeper Jun Lee made an unbelievable save on the rebound attempt.
Without the lead and ability to lean on their great defense, Grampus had to remain a bit exposed as they looked for a winner and Pohang took full advantage, opening the scoring in the 53rd minute through Lim Sang-hyub. Then, with the visitors needing to chase an equalizer, Pohang were able to score twice more to seal a win that ended Nagoya’s run.
It was a marvelous AFC Champions League for Grampus, who topped Pohang in the group stage to finish first in their group. They then beat Daegu FC in the quarterfinals thanks to a Świerczok hat trick. While they will be disappointed not to have gone further in the tournament, what they did show is certainly worthy of applause.
Nagoya now turn their attention to the remainder of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE season, the Emperor’s Cup and the J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP Final. They still have an opportunity to win two cups, with the Emperor’s Cup providing a path to next season’s AFC Champions League. They also currently sit fourth in the league and may have an opportunity to qualify for the continental competition through that route.