For the first time since 1988, Korea will get a chance to win a tournament that has bedeviled them ever since they last won it in 1960. Korea’s quality in Sydney tonight overpowered Iraq in their semifinal win by a 2:0 score – their 2nd goal coming from an unlikely source. More on that in a moment – it wouldn’t be a Team Korea display without some glaring imperfections, nevertheless they cruise into the Asia Cup finals -somehow managing 5 consecutive clean sheets in a row. They will face either the UAE or hosts Australia, those teams go at it tomorrow to decide who will face Korea for the Cup on January 31st.
Note: it’s 6:30 am at the physical Tavern, so we will keep this brief – Jinseok will have a follow up companion post on Monday afternoon – keep on the lookout for that – it should be insightful and I can’t wait to read it…
In case you missed it (and you’ll be forgiven if you did in the US east coast with the bloody early 4am kickoff), Korea blasts their way through to the Asia Cup Finals in Sydney Australia. “Blasts their way through” may not be the right term, but given the tense situation in camp Korea with vice captain Lee Chung-Yong injured with a tibia fracture & out of the tournament early on, flu taking out a number of players during group play, anemic performances on the pitch / narrow victories over minnow teams in group stage and Koo Ja-Cheol knocked out of the tourney with ligament damage, let’s just say Korea weathered some dark storms to arrive. Hats off to both the players and Uli Stielike, they’ve cobbled together deserved wins and have steadily improved in the tournament.
Setting up the semifinals, Tim mentioned in the Saturday kickaround – controversy swirled as Iraq fielded an ineligible player – so claimed Iran after their extra time / PK loss to their regional rivals. After submitting an appeal, hoping for Iraq to be disqualified, the AFC declined it. There will be probably more on this in the coming days as there’s some merits to the complaints, but as far as the semifinal date with Iraq, Game on…
15 minutes to kickoff, this:
— Asian Football Feast (@AsianFballFeast) January 26, 2015
Wondering whether the downpour would make for a bloody mess of a pitch, especially for Korea. Starting XI:
Changes to the XI : Cha in RB for Kim Chang-Soo and Han Kyo-Won on the wing for Lee Keun-Ho.
Again, not going into great detail but here’s how it all started – Korea maintains the ball for several sustained minutes, Iraq didn’t get a touch on the ball in that time. Then this (from the Guardian):
3 min: Korea venture down the left, dipping a toe in the waters, before it’s shifted back to Ki Sung-yueng. Taking a quick peep he whips in a wicked curling cross to the far post but a diving Han Kyo-won just fails to get his head on it. Korea could have scored without Iraq getting touch!
Captain Ki, who’s been an absolute stalwart for Korea, only 7 minutes in was yellow carded for a challenge on Kalaf. Troubling -as Korea’s chances could go up in smokes if he got carded again…
Korea started getting nervy, hampered by the heavy rain and sloppy pitch, their touches looked unsure & unsteady. At the 18th minute: suddenly Ki gives away the ball, a very rare turnover with a mis pass to the back, but Iraq aren’t able to capitalize. Suddenly Son is on the break, with loads of space, he cracks a shot that Iraq’s keeper just tips over.
As the game progressed, Korea’s ball possession rate: 71% Iraq: 29%
To the 20th minute, Kim Jin-Su takes the freekick, it sails over to the far post, youngster Lee Jung-Hyup comes into focus, rises above and connects: his header bounces in for Korea’s first goal.
Park Joo-Ho then gets into a bit of trouble, gets on yellow for a challenge on Yasim (even though he won the ball). Korea starts to look shaky as Iraq starts to control the action, desperate to get on the scoresheet before the half. From the Guardian:
43 min: And now Kalaf get off a shot from the edge of the box! But Kim Jin-Hyeon gets down low to his right and turns it away for a corner. Just as well, as Abdul Zahra was on the scene ready to tap in on the rebound.
Only a minute later and Kwak Tae-Hwi’s poor backwards header to Kim Jin-Hyeon allows Abdul Zahra to get a chance. His attempt to find his partner Mahmood is too heavy and goes on out of danger.
HALFTIME Korea 1 : Iraq 0
Before the halftime break, an interesting tweet came my way:
— AS English (@English_AS) January 26, 2015
Apparently there’s 2 underage Venezuelans at Real Madrid that caught FIFA’s attention. Post game, it’s been disclosed that Atletico, Rayo and Valencia are under investigation.
I’m about to pass out (honestly) so let’s conclude with…wait for it…Kim Young-Gwon’s goal to seal the game. Surprising as this particular CB doesn’t score a lot of goals, but the opportunity suddenly fell his way after Son took a corner kick in the 50th minute. With the ball ping ponging around, Nam Tae-hee brought in back into play – the ball chested down by Lee Jung-Hyup. It didn’t come to his feet as he might’ve planned, but rather to Kim’s, who was lurking and hadn’t retreated back after Son’s CK. He nailed a shot that deflected (or in replays possibly nutmegged a defender) – the keeper reacted a moment too late and the ball bounced on in to his left.
Korea 2 : Iraq 0
There’s a bit more to talk about with the 2nd half (including an ill timed pitch invader, for which Iraq’s players were ready to bum rush him), and post game conclusions…but extra time has come and gone and I’m out of gas. Need a substitution (whistle blows).
It’s going to be a tough morning at the Tavern with this sleep deprivation -but there’s joy that’ll override things for a spell, joy at seeing Korea in position to possibly win it all. The defense occasionally looked ‘panicky’ at times for the 5th consecutive time – and yet maintained a clean sheet – for the 5th consecutive time. Another thought before I pass out: I remember Kim Jin-Hyeon, while solid overall, had some 2nd half bizarre display of trying to be like ‘Neuer’ and wandering far from his post. Luckily for Kim, Cha saved his bacon on that occasion when Kim didn’t win the ball from an enterprising Iraqi forward.
Last thought – if you happened to tune into the Tavern podcast previewing the Asia Cup before it all kicked off earlier this month, I made a bold prediction. Most of the other Tavern writers thought Korea would come close but not win the Cup. Most Asia Cup years, they would not be wrong. While it’s not over until it’s over, if I may dare to call in early bragging rights, the Old Tavern owner called it and said Korea will take it this year. To be fair, who knew Japan and Iran would exit shockingly in the quarterfinals. But the unpredictability of a tournament is what makes it exciting and this one is no different. One more game to go. Dae Han Min Guk ya’ll. See you at Tavern again soon for Jinseok’s take on the game.