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South Korea on the Brink of Another Finals Appearance

South Korea had to gut out a 1-0 victory against Lebanon on Matchday 7 in Group A of the third round of Asian World Cup qualifiers.  Cho Gue-sung found the net from close range from Hwang Ui-jo's well-placed cross, his second career strike for the national team.  The win keeps the gap at the top of the group at two points, as Iran beat rivals Iraq.  The United Arab Emirates' win over Syria keeps them mathematically alive for second place, but all the Taeguk Warriors would have to do against the same opposition on Tuesday night is come away with a draw to seal their qualification for Qatar.  KLU's Branko Belan looks ahead to the match.
(Photo Credit: KFA)


First Half Strike Holds Up 

South Korea approached their match with Lebanon knowing they needed to come away with three points in order to keep pace with Iran at the top of the group, but also to bring themselves one step closer to ensuring their place in Qatar this year.  They showed ability to get behind the Lebanese back line in the early stages of the match, but their play in the final third did not produce results.  It wasn't until the first minute of stoppage time at the end of the opening half when the deadlock was finally broken.  

Hwang Ui-jo had space on the left flank to float a low cross into the area which found Cho Gue-sung, who slotted home low into the corner with a first-time finish, allowing the Koreans to head to the interval a goal in front.

The second half was stagnant until both teams traded chances with twenty minutes to go.  George Felix Melki was unlucky for his shot to cannon off the post, while Lee Jae-sung missed an opportunity to put South Korea two goals ahead, as his close range header flashed inches wide.

Lebanon would turn up the pressure with the clock ticking down, but Korea held together well defensively and took a vital three points at the final whistle.

Syrian Woes Continue

Syria fell by a final of 2-0 against the United Arab Emirates, in a match that looked fairly even on both sides statistically, but goals from Caio Canedo Corrêa and Yahya Al Ghassani were the difference as Syria remain rooted at the bottom of the group on just two points from seven matches.

The previous meeting between the teams last October finished with a 2-1 scoreline in South Korea's favor.  Paulo Bento's side dominated the match with over seventy percent of possession and 23 attempts on goal, but only six of those efforts were on target.  Hwang In-beom struck the first blow three minutes after the break, but Omar Khribin leveled matters with just six minutes to play.

With the possibility of a draw looming, it would be Son Heung-min who would come to the rescue, snatching the winner just ahead of additional time.  Syria will play their final group matches away to Lebanon and home to Iraq in March.

Starting Early Key to Success

An early goal against Syria on Tuesday night would go a long way to soothe the nerves of the squad, as it almost cost them against Lebanon.  Going into the interval a goal up was a good sign after a tepid first half, but a reliance on one goal victories is bound to catch up with them sooner or later.

While they dominated the possession, it didn't amount to much on the scoreboard.  Lebanon came on strong in the later stages of the match and could have equalized if not for a stroke of bad luck.  Part of the concern is a lack of execution in the final third.  Players have been too tentative around the penalty area in recent qualifiers and must erase that tendency if they are to perform well in Qatar.

Kim Min-jae referenced the fact in an interview prior to the match against Lebanon, and the hope is that it comes to fruition against Syria.  Even though the host side is all but out of the running for a playoff spot, they are still capable of playing spoiler, something the Koreans would do well to guard against.

Torrid Conditions


Of note, the quality of the pitch in Saida was very poor, causing most of the play to be limited to the periphery as it was difficult to move through the middle.  The weather went through cycles of sun, cloud, and rain, making the conditions even more difficult to deal with.  

Bento did not make a single change during the match, giving rise to speculation there may be a fair bit of rotation in the starting eleven for the match on Tuesday night but the overseas players should still see match action.  Jung Woo-young, however, picked up a yellow card against Lebanon and will not be available for selection.  If Bento does decide to shuffle the deck, it could be an opportunity for the likes of Paik Seung-ho (who may get a place in the lineup for the suspended Jung), Lee Dong-gyeong, Kim Gun-hee, and Kim Jin-kyu to earn some minutes, especially with travel once again being a factor.

"A Fair Victory"

Paulo Bento is one step closer to leading South Korea to Qatar.  Photo credit: The Korea Herald.
"We controlled most of the match," Bento commented at the postgame press conference.

"We just scored one goal but we had more opportunities to finish the game a little bit earlier," Bento said. "I'd like to congratulate the players on their performance and attitude."

FNR

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