ABU DHABI // Asia defeated Africa last night as Pohang Steelers staged a stirring second-half recovery to end brave TP Mazembe's Club World Cup dream at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. Pohang earned a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Argentina's Estudiantes thanks to a brace of goals from the Brazilian Denilson, who was making a triumphant return to the UAE. But their victory was anything but routine.
Mazembe, with star man Tresor Mputu cast in the role of marionette master to drop deep and pull his side's attacking strings, played swift, fluid and dynamic football which troubled the Koreans throughout. As early as the fourth minute, Mputu showed the skills which reportedly made him a target for English Premier League side Arsenal. The fleet-footed 24-year- old forward spun his marker on the edge of the Pohang area and pulled the ball back dangerously across the Steelers' six-yard box. The Koreans cleared their lines in the resulting scramble, but Mazembe had fired an early warning.
Minutes later, Mulota Kabangu, all pace, muscle and power, burst down the right-wing and pinged over an inviting cross. Amia Ekanga rose well but could only direct his firm header wide of Shin Hwa Yong's post. Pohang, with Denilson, who played in the UAE's league from 1999 to 2005, the primary point of attack, hit back. The former Al Shabab, Al Nasr and Paris Saint Germain striker was up-ended on the edge of the Mazembe box, handing Kim Jae Sung a set-piece well within shooting range.
Congolese goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba, however, did well to punch the ball away after Kim's curling effort took a goalbound deflection of Mputu's head. Another Pohang free-kick, this time only inches outside the penalty box, saw Kidiaba fly to his left to keep out a No Byung Jun shot. With the teams' mutual efforts in sizing each other up abating, the contest was delicately poised. But not for long. Pohang, and Shin in particular, must have thought they were safe when Mbenza Bedi ran on to a stray ball more than 30 yards out. But the Mazembe midfielder had other ideas. Bedi unleashed a swerving, bending screamer. Shin got the merest of fingers to it but could not keep it from flying into the bottom left-hand corner.
Kim then wasted a brace of chances as Pohang went in search of an equaliser. The second-half started in dramatic fashion. No found space down the right wing and chipped in a tame-looking cross. Mazembe centre-half Kanyimbo Tshizeu, however, mis-timed his jump and Denilson, the experienced predator, was lurking over his shoulder to nod Pohang level. Mazembe burst back to life. Kabangu, now bossing the left flank, flashed a shot across the face of goal after a lovely through ball from Ekanga. The Congo side were dictating proceedings again.
Pohang, however, always looked dangerous. After flirting with offside, substitute Hwang Jin Sung became the latest Steeler to shoot straight at Kibiaba when clean through. The game's destiny, swinging like a pendulum, was in the balance. Kabangu, quickly usurping Mputu as Mazembe's principal threat, forced Shin into a diving save to his right, before Denilson beat the offside trap, broke clear and fired Pohang in front.
With just 10 minutes remaining, Mazembe's weary heads dropped. But Kabangu fired up his troops and, with Pohang content to play on the counter, Mazembe began spreading passes at will. Too often, though, the ball went long, where the diminutive Mputu stood no chance of out-jump- ing Pohang captain Hwang Jae Won. It was Pohang who almost scored a third. Denilson, ultimately the difference between the sides, broke clear again, a hat-trick looking certain. Only the legs of the onrushing Kidiaba, who was outstanding all night, denied the Brazilian.