Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Turning Point Or Just An Easy Game?

Lee Young-pyo congratulates Lee keun-ho
There was a moment during Wednesday’s World Cup qualification match between South Korea and UAE in Seoul that may prove to be a turning point in the team’s fortunes.

Korea dominated the match at Seoul World Cup Stadium, just like they had numerous times in the past. With 20 minutes of the match remaining, it was 2-0 and really should have been more. Chances had been missed, flying saves made and woodwork whacked. Despite that, at least two goals had been scored and 2-0 would have been acceptable prior to the match.

Then, as happened against Jordan in the previous round of qualification and against Iran and Syria in Asian Cup qualification, Korea followed domination and missed chances by giving away a goal in comical circumstances.

Facing his own goal at the edge of the penalty area, Cho Yong-hyong, under pressure from Islam Salem, elected to turn and try to dribble past the UAE attacker instead of booting the ball into touch. Predictably, Salem took the ball, dribbled round startled goalkeeper Jugn Sung-ryong to score.

The next five minutes were nervy and most of the fans fully expected a desperate fight to protect the three points. Unlike in the past however, a Korean striker was around to take some pressure off the team with clinical finishing.

Lee Keun-ho has been scoring goals for Daegu for two seasons now and has been on the fringes of the national team for around half that time. The former Incheon United player - the gritty port city club has a habit of jettisoning players that later turn out to be selected for South Korea - is the latest star in the Land of the Morning Calm.

He wasn’t even an automatic choice for the national team until last week. Lee came on at half-time in a friendly match against Uzbekistan and scored twice in the second half. That was enough to earn a place in the starting eleven against UAE.

Just as he did against Uzbekistan, Lee missed his first chance that was easier than the others. Midway through the He showed great movement to put himself in a position to score the firstt goal and then, five minutes after UAE pulled one back, Lee sealed the win for the hosts.

It was a great finish and provided a hint that Korea’s new young guns could be made of sterner stuff mentally than some of their recent predecessors. Ki Sung-young, Lee Chung-young, Lee Keun-ho and Jung Sung-hoon all enjoyed themselves against the Uzbeks and UAE but tougher tests lie ahead.

There are none tougher in Asian football than visits to Saudi Arabia. If the youngsters can pull off a similar performance against a much more formidable West Asian team then that really could be something worth getting excited about.

"The players have now regained their confidence," Park ji-sung said. "If we can keep the atmosphere alive, we can get a good result in Saudi Arabia.”

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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