(LEAD) (U20 World Cup) S. Korea blank South Africa 1-0 for 1st win

May 29, 2019

South Korea defeated South Africa 1-0 for their first victory at the FIFA U-20 World Cup on Tuesday, taking an important step toward their second straight knockout berth.

Kim Hyun-woo’s header in the 69th minute was the difference in Group F action at Tychy Stadium in Tychy, Poland, as South Korea bounced back from a 1-0 loss to Portugal on Saturday.

Kim Hyun-woo of South Korea celebrates his goal against South Africa in the teams' Group F match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Tychy Stadium in Tychy, Poland, on May 28, 2019. (Yonhap)
Lee Kang-in of South Korea (2nd from R) dribbles the ball past Oswin Appollis (No. 9) and Brendon Moloisane (No. 21) of South Africa in the teams' Group F match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Tychy Stadium in Tychy, Poland, on May 28, 2019. (Yonhap)
Oh Se-hun of South Korea (No. 9) attempts a header against South Africa in the teams' Group F match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Tychy Stadium in Tychy, Poland, on May 28, 2019. (Yonhap)

Kim Hyun-woo of South Korea celebrates his goal against South Africa in the teams’ Group F match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Tychy Stadium in Tychy, Poland, on May 28, 2019. (Yonhap)

With three points, South Korea climbed to second place in the group behind Argentina, which defeated Portugal 2-0 earlier Tuesday to clinch a knockout spot.

South Korea and Portugal both have three points apiece, but South Korea are ahead in goal difference, zero to minus-1.

The top two teams from each of the six groups, plus the four best third-place teams, will advance to the round of 16. Since the tournament expanded to the current 24-team format in 1997, only Zambia in 1999 have failed to reach the knockouts with four points.

South Korea will close out the group play Friday against Argentina, back at Tychy Stadium.

Head coach Chung Jung-yong came out with a different formation and made a few lineup changes from Saturday. He replaced a defensive-oriented 3-5-2 formation with an aggressive 4-2-3-1 setup. And two attackers who provided some second-half spark off the bench against Portugal, Oh Se-hun and Um Won-sang, got the starting nods in this one. Defensive midfielder Jeong Ho-jin made his tournament debut.

South Africa, reeling from a 5-2 loss to Argentina on Saturday, took control of the match early and enjoyed some sustained pressure on the offensive end. Goalkeeper Lee Gwang-yeon single-handedly kept this a scoreless match for South Korea, flashing his catlike reflexes on some key saves.

In the 15th minute, Lee denied Siphesihle Mkhize on a header following a corner kick. About five minutes later, Lee made a huge stop on James Monyane, who pounced on a rebound after Lee punched a free kick right back to the South African striker standing near the penalty spot.

South Korea tried to respond in the 26th minute, but forward Cho Young-wook missed the net after goalkeeper Khulekani Kubheka was briefly caught out of position trying to clear an aerial pass.

South Africa pushed back in the 35th, and Lee fanned on a punching attempt following a corner kick that nearly cost South Korea a goal. Fortunately for them, Keenan Abrahams bounced his header wide left of the open net.

In the late moments, Monyane got off a volley on the right side, and Lee was there to keep it out of the near side.

South Africa outshot South Korea 5-0 in the opening 45 minutes.

South Korea turned the tide in their favor to begin the second half. Four minutes in, South Korea had multiple shot attempts blocked by the flustered South African defense. Then in the 51st, Oh Se-hun headed a Choi Jun cross just over the net.

In the next minute, Oh received a pass from Choi and teed it up for Cho Young-wook, who fired one high and wide.

Jeong Ho-jin rang a shot off the crossbar in the 62nd minute, after a loose ball trickled to the midfielder just outside the box.

South Korea kept the South Africans on their heels, as Lee Kang-in cut in from the right wing and missed the far side in the 67th.

South Korea finally solved South Africa in the 68th. Defensive back Kim Hyun-woo soared over multiple defenders to head in a corner kick past Kubheka, giving South Korea their first goal of the tournament.

The pendulum remained firmly on the South Korean side. Jeon Se-jin, who started the first match but came off the bench in this one, nearly doubled the lead with his left-footed shot in the 81st, with Kubheka making a desperation save.

Goalkeeper Lee wasn’t nearly as busy in the second half, but he came through when the team needed him the most. Only seconds before the final whistle, Malebogo Modise tried to head home a corner kick, and Lee made a diving save right at the goal line to preserve the narrow victory.

It looked as though the win might have come at a cost for South Korea. Kim, the goal scorer, was stretchered off the field late in the match with an apparent foot injury, after landing awkwardly in a clearing attempt.

Though he looked to be in a lot of pain, Kim declared himself fine afterward.

“I should be ready for the next match if I can get some treatment and rest,” he said. “It wasn’t a serious injury, but I felt a bit of pain, and I wanted to get ready for the third match.”

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