Korea get the better of Uzbekistan

Korea get the better of Uzbekistan

By Paul Williams in Seoul

Korea has strengthened its grip on top spot of Group A after a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Seoul tonight.

Korean fans unfurl a giant banner before tonight's game

Korean fans unfurl a giant banner before tonight’s game

An own goal from Akmal Shorakhmedov just before half time was enough to seal all three points for the Taeguk Warriors, who now must wait for the result of the Iran-Lebanon game to know whether they have qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

On a wet night in front of just under 51,000 at the Seoul World Cup Stadium, it was Korea who made the early running in search of the opening goal that would ease nerves across the country.

They enjoyed early success down the right hand side, getting in behind Uzbek defender Vitaly Denisov on a number of occasions but failing to find the killer ball into the box.

Lee Keun-ho, who is serving his mandatory two-years military service, had the best chance of the first half when he found himself with just Ignaity Nesterov to beat, but he inexplicably found a way to miss, slicing his shot well wide in the end.

Uzbekistan were reduced to long range efforts for most of the first half, with Anzur Ismailov’s effort in the 17th minute the closest they came from that avenue. 35-year-old Ulugbek Bakaev then had a great chance when he was found with a delightful chip from captain Server Djeparov, but he couldn’t get his header down to trouble Jung Sung-ryong in goal.

Late in the half Pohang Steelers midfielder Lee Myung-joo was played through one-on-one with Nesterov, but the Uzbek keeper stood tall once again, making a fine one-handed save to deny the young midfielder.

Then, just as it looked like both teams would head into the half level, Guangzhou Evergrande defender Kim Young-gwon whipped in an inch-perfect cross from the right that Akmal Shorakhmedov headed into his own net to gift Korea the lead going into the break.

The second half followed much the same pattern as the first, with Korea dominating most of the possession and creating plenty of good chances, most notably to captain Kwak Tae-hwi whose goal-bound header was saved on the line by Nesterov to keep Uzbekistan in the game.

And while Uzbekistan continued to press in search of an equaliser, they were restricted to shots from distance which would’ve pleased Korean coach Choi Kang-hee and the Korean defence.

Myung-joo, who was playing his first ‘A’ International for Korea, was instrumental in a lot of Korea’s best work and was deservedly awarded the Man of the Match award post game.

Speaking after the match Kang-hee was full of praise for his side, who were looking to recover from their shock 1-1 draw with Lebanon last week.

“Because we drew 1-1 with Lebanon in the last match we felt a lot of pressure before the game, especially because Uzbekistan were in a confident mood and I always thought the game would be settled by one goal,” he said.

“We must still give our best effort in the match against Iran because Iran are also looking to qualify for Brazil and we remember the difficult conditions we faced in the away match.

“It was a big match for us and it makes us feel better for the match against Iran. This was an important match and the concentration of the players was important and winning will give the players a lot more confidence.”

Lanky striker Kim Shin-wook was instrumental in attack for Korea, beating his opponents to repeated balls into the front third and setting up a number of opportunities for his attacking partners, particularly Bayer Leverkusen-bound Son Heung-min.

“There’s still room to improve, but I am satisfied with the performance of the team,” he told Asian Football Feast after the game.

“We will do our best and I expect a good result in our next match.”

For Uzbekistan the loss was a blow for their World Cup chances, but their remains life in their campaign yet.

“Nothing has been lost, we still have a chance,” said Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov.

“It was a big match between two big teams in the group. The final result was a 1-0 win for Korea and we are now relying on Korea to play better against Iran on June 18. We also have to face Qatar and I think we can win to qualify for the World Cup. I expect Korea to remain professional and play professionally against Iran.”

Captain Server Djeparov echoed those comments after the game, telling Asian Football Feast very simply that: “We have last game against Qatar and we try to do the best.”

Korea will now face Iran in Ulsan next week, while Uzbekistan host Qatar.

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