PSG’s Lee scores as S. Korea defeat China to finish 2nd round in World Cup qualification

June 12, 2024

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in scored for his second straight match, as South Korea defeated China 1-0 at home Tuesday to conclude the second round in the Asian qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Lee netted his 10th international goal in front of 64,935 fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium in the final Group C match of the second round in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) World Cup qualification.

South Korea had already clinched the top spot in their group, and also a ticket to the third round, after beating Singapore 7-0 last Thursday. China, on the other hand, needed at least a draw to reach the third round without needing help from other teams.

China hung tough for 60 minutes, frustrating South Korean attackers with their suffocating defense, before Lee finally broke the ice just past the hour mark.

All 10 of Lee’s goals have come in the past 15 matches.

South Korea struggled to unlock the Chinese defense in the first half, despite spending the majority of the opening 45 minutes in the opposing zone.

Unable to find shooting lanes with a series of passes, South Korean needed some individual brilliance from captain Son Heung-min to generate looks. In the 20th minute, Son cut in from the left wing toward the center in his signature move, before sending a low shot easily saved by goalkeeper Wang Dalei.

Son won a free kick outside the box in the next minute, but his spot kick ricocheted off a Chinese defender before landing on the top of the net.

South Korea held a 92-8 advantage in ball possession at one point, but China pushed back a bit in the latter part of the first half, with shots getting blocked or missing the target.

South Korea finally solved China in the 61st minute, courtesy of Lee.

Son’s initial shot from the left side of the box rolled through multiple bodies, and Hwang In-beom only got a piece of the loose ball with Wang caught out of position. The ball then trickled toward the penalty spot, and Lee beat everyone to the ball as he ran into the shot that beat the scrambling Chinese goalkeeper.

South Korea kept their pressure on, with substitute Joo Min-kyu, in pursuit of his second goal in two matches, getting denied by Wang with a left-footed attempt in the 77th minute.

South Korea finished with 11 shot attempts to China’s two and put six of those shots on target.

Despite the loss, China did make it through to the third round with eight points from six matches. Thailand defeated Singapore 3-1 later Tuesday to also finish with eight points. China and Singapore were dead even in the first two tiebreaking categories, goal difference and goals scored. China moved on thanks to a win and a draw against Thailand during the group play.

China were the more desperate side, but South Korea also had something to play for in this match.

South Korea were trying to remain the third-highest ranked AFC team in the FIFA rankings, thus ensuring they would grab one of three seeds for the third round and avoid the continent’s top two teams, Japan and Iran.

Japan and Iran, currently at 18th and 20th, have locked down two seeds. South Korea came into Tuesday ranked 23rd, but only 0.06 point ahead of 24th-ranked Australia.

The June rankings, to be unveiled later this month, will determine the seeding for the third round, where 18 qualifying teams from the second round will be drawn into three groups of six.