Wednesday, June 23, 2010

South Korea Squeeze Into The Second Stage

South Korea Squeeze Into The Second Stage.
It is 56 years since South Korea first travelled to the World Cup. It wasn't a good experience. Five subsequent overseas appearances all ended with the same result - an early exit. Only 2002, on home soil, saw a surge past the first round and into the semi-finals.

That all changed on Tuesday as the Koreans booked their place in the second round of the 2010 World Cup with a 2-2 draw with Nigeria in Durban on Tuesday evening to go past the first round for the first time ever away from Asia.

Korea finished second in Group B behind Argentina and take on Uruguay on Saturday in Port Elizabeth with a place in the quarterfinal at stake.

The outcome was in doubt until the final seconds in an entertaining and tense encounter with Nigeria missing a number of great opportunities that could have seen the Africans in the knockout stage.

With Argentina defeating Greece 2-0, Korea started the evening in second on three points but soon found itself behind thanks to Kalu Uche. Lee Jung-soo equalized just before the break and not long after Park Chu-young put Korea ahead. A penalty from Yakubu Aiyegbeni leveled the scoreline once again to ensure a very nervous finish.

Just what Korea didn’t want to happen happened after 12 minutes as a simple but very avoidable goal was conceded.

Chidi Odiah was allowed to run down the right side but his low cross perhaps should have been cleared by Cha Du-ri. Instead the German-based defender allowed Kalu Uche to get in front of him to stab the ball home from close range.

It was a big blow for the Koreans who had started well. After Nigeria had lost their first two matches in the group, confidence was suddenly coursing through the veins of the green-shirted Super Eagles and the more powerful African team started to get a grip on the game.

The goalscorer went very close from outside the area ten minutes before the break as he drove a low shot firmly that went past goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryung but not the base of his left hand post

Just two minutes later, Korea drew level with a goal from nowhere. Lee Young-pyo was fouled just outside the right edge of the African penalty area to give Huh Jung-moo’s men another free-kick. Ki Sung-yung’s free-kick evaded everyone except for the unmarked Lee Jung-soo at the far post who bundled the ball over the line in a somewhat ungainly but, for those watching in East Asia, delicious fashion.

South Korea Squeeze Into The Second Stage.
Half-time came with the contest finely balanced but it swung heavily in Korea’s favor just three minutes into the second half. Another free-kick was given away by the men in green and from the left corner of the penalty box, Park Chu-young curled a shot into the far corner of the Nigerian goal.

Nigeria started to push forward, the team had to. Yakubu Aiyegbeni was about to shoot from close range only to be robbed by Lee Jung-soo while Park Chu-young forced a good save from Vincent Enyeama.

And then with 24 minutes remaining, Yakubu somehow missed the easiest opportunity of the 2010 World Cup. Once again Cha Du-ri allowed his man to get past him and a low cross was rolled across the face of the Korean goal and Yakubu shot wide from two metres out.

It didn’t signal the end of Nigerian hopes as shortly after, recently introduced sub substitute Kim Nam-il clumsily fouled Chinedu Obasi and Yakubu, who plays his club football for Everton in the English Premier League, scored the resultant penalty to level the scoreline at 2-2.

To their credit, the Korean players hit back and went close through Lee Chung-yong and Park Ji-sung but with ten minutes remaining, Nigerian substitute Obafemi Martins went closer, breaking free in to the penalty area to lift the ball over the advancing Jung. The ball bounced just wide of the post.

That was as close as the Nigerians got and soon after the final whistle sounded to spark Korean celebrations in Durban and back in the Land of the not-so-Morning Calm.

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