S Korea snatch late win over Uzbekistan
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