S Korea snatch late win over Uzbek­istan

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

South Korea gave coach Uli Stielike the per­fect birth­day gift with a 21 win over Uzbek­istan yes­ter­day that breathed new life into their World Cup qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign.

The vic­tory lifted South Korea above the Uzbeks into sec­ond spot in Group A at the mid­way point of Asia’s fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing round, level on 10 points with Iran.

The top two sides in Group A and B qual­ify au­to­mat­i­cally for the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia while the third-placed teams meet to de­cide who goes into a CONCACAF-Asian Zone play­off for a place at the fi­nals.

The Kore­ans have looked a shadow of the side that reached last year’s Asian Cup fi­nal and went in at half­time trail­ing 1-0 af­ter Marat Bik­maev pounced on goal­keeper Kim Se­ung-gyu’s poor clear­ance to curl the ball into an empty net from 25 me­tres.

The hosts had dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion in the open­ing 45 min­utes with­out look­ing re­motely dan­ger­ous but showed greater ur­gency af­ter the break and equalised in the 67th minute.

De­fender Park Joo-ho dashed down to the line and his loop­ing cross arced to the far post where Nam Tae-hee crashed home a header.

Stielike, cel­e­brat­ing his 62nd birth­day, sent on tow­er­ing tar­get man Kim Shin­wook and de­fender Hong Chul and the sub­sti­tutes com­bined to set up the win­ner. Hong crossed deep from the left, Kim held off a de­fender to nod the ball back across goal and Koo Ja-cheol raced in be­hind the de­fence to slam home five min­utes from time.

Af­ter los­ing 1-0 to Iran in their last qual­i­fier, Stielike was de­lighted his side had man­aged to break down the stingy Uzbek de­fence, which had con­ceded just two goals over their last seven matches.

“We knew how dif­fi­cult this game would be be­fore we started,” the Ger­man told re­porters. “I’m satisfied with how the play­ers turned it around .. We de­served the vic­tory.” South Korea face a trip to China when World Cup qual­i­fy­ing re­sumes in March while Uzbek­istan play Syria.

Mean­while, Asian heavy­weights Iran splashed to a 0-0 draw against Syria in World Cup qual­i­fy­ing yes­ter­day on a swampy Malaysian pitch that will raise ques­tions over why the match was al­lowed to pro­ceed.

Nei­ther side mounted much sus­tained pres­sure in the dreary con­test as their keep­ers eas­ily picked off what few se­ri­ous shots they en­coun­tered due to the slow pace of play.

The re­sult leaves Iran still atop Group A but ru­ing a failed chance to take three points against war-torn Syria, who are un­able to host games due to the bloody con­flict back home.

The Syr­ian side has adopted Malaysia as a tem­po­rary home ground, but yes­ter­day’s match ex­posed the pit­falls of the sit­u­a­tion. The sub­par pitch in a town out­side Kuala Lumpur soaked up a heavy pre-game trop­i­cal down­pour like a sponge, swal­low­ing passes and mak­ing play­ers look as if they were moving at half-speed.

The Ira­ni­ans dom­i­nated play, how­ever, and Saeid Eza­to­lahi nearly put them ahead with a header in front of goal in the 34th minute that leaked just past the right post.

The match set­tled into a war of at­tri­tion, with nei­ther squad able to put much pace into their shots due to the quick­sand foot­ing.

With the pitch dry­ing a lit­tle by the late sec­ond half the big­ger Ira­ni­ans, their white jer­seys now brown, upped the pres­sure with a series of at­tacks.

But a missed 89th-minute header by Alirez Ja­han­bakhsh on a dan­ger­ous cross from Mi­lad Mo­ham­madi-right in front of goal with the keeper beaten-summed up the night for Iran.

The re­sult con­tin­ues the semicharmed run of the home­less Syr­i­ans, who have lost twice but also have beaten China and drawn with South Korea. — Agencies

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