x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Red cards sink Steelers

Leandro Benitez's brace saw Conmebol champions Estudiantes into the Club World Cup final.

Pohang's keeper Hwa-Yong Shin takes out Maxi Nunez to earn his side's third red card.
Pohang's keeper Hwa-Yong Shin takes out Maxi Nunez to earn his side's third red card.

ABU DHABI // Leandro Benitez's brace saw Conmebol champions Estudiantes into the Club World Cup final as the South American side defeated eight-man Pohang Steelers 2-1 at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium last night. But the poor officiating of the Italian referee Roberto Rosetti was the real story of the game. Rosetti sent off three Steelers players in the second half, a hat-trick of interventions that ended the intriguing contest just as it was hotting up.

Estudiantes began well but their pre-tournament billing as the Club World Cup's second-best team seemed questionable as Alejandro Sabella's side lacked any real penetration. The physical Pohang unit weathered the expected early storm as the South American side, anchored by the former Lazio, Inter Milan and Manchester United midfielder Juan Sebastien Veron, imposed themselves from the whistle. Rosetti had already booked Tae-Su Kim when Estudiantes etched out their first sight of goal in the seventh minute. Midfielder Rodrigo Brana's long-range shot was palmed away by the Steelers goalkeeper Hwa-Yong Shin, and the loose ball fell to Mauro Boselli, whose acrobatic overhead kick hit the post. The rebound fell to Benitez, who inexplicably skied his effort over from six yards out.

Moments later, Veron slipped a pass to Boselli and Shin flapped at the striker's cross-shot. Then, just as Veron's class was coming to the fore, the Argentine side took their foot off the gas and the South Koreans started finding answers to the Estudiantes captain's laser-like passes. Rosetti then booked Jae-Sung Kim for a late tackle on German Re, before a 20-plus passing move saw Estudiantes right-back Clemente Rodriguez find Benitez. The livewire winger cut inside and fired left-footed at Shin, who gathered comfortably.

Veron's men were struggling to fashion clear-cut opportunities, but a goal from nothing on the stroke of half-time gave them the lead. Jung-Kyum Kim was booked for going in too strongly for Rosetti's liking and Benitez scored, somewhat controversially, from the free-kick. Boselli looked clearly offside as he tried, in vain, to get a glance on Benitez's in-swinger. Television replays showed the striker was actually just onside, but he failed to make contact anyway. It would have been interesting, though, to see if the linesman would have flagged offside had he touched the ball.

The second-half saw Estudiantes pick up where they left off. Veron chipped a pass over the Steelers back line and Boselli beat Shin to the ball, lobbing it past the keeper to the back-post, where Benitez side-footed home to double Estudiantes' advantage. Pohang's task took on greater proportions minutes later when captain Jae-Won Hwang received a second yellow for blocking the path of Maxi Nunez. Despite losing their defensive linchpin, Pohang got one back when Denilson, also looking suspiciously offside, picked up on a stray ball and lashed it home.

Jae-Sung Kim then saw red for a needless tackle on Veron in the centre circle, before Shin also got his marching orders for racing out his box and crashing into Nunez. Although neither player touched the ball, and three other Pohang defenders were in close proximity, Rosetti sent the keeper off. Denilson, the tournament's top scorer, ended up in goal for the Steelers, who now go into Saturday's third and fourth place play-off missing several key players. emegson@thenational.ae