S. Korea beat UAE to stay undefeated in final World Cup qualifying round

November 12, 2021

Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Hwang Hee-chan converted a first-half penalty to help South Korea blank the United Arab Emirates (UAE) 1-0 in their World Cup qualifying match at home on Thursday.

In the first national team football match in South Korea without COVID-19 crowd restrictions in nearly two years, the Taeguk Warriors thoroughly dominated their opponents from start to finish at Goyang Stadium in Goyang, just northwest of Seoul, and did everything but score after Hwang’s 36th-minute penalty.

Captain Son Heung-min found the woodwork twice and forward Cho Gue-sung hit the post once before 30,152 fans, the largest crowd at a sporting event in South Korea during the pandemic.

Hwang Hee-chan of South Korea celebrates his goal against the United Arab Emirates during the teams’ Group A match in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Goyang Stadium in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, on Nov. 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

South Korea improved to 11 points after five matches on three wins and two draws in Group A of the final Asian qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. South Korea began the day two points back of Iran in second place, with Iran playing Lebanon on the road later Thursday night.

South Korea will next play Iraq on Tuesday, with Qatar serving as a neutral venue. Iraq held South Korea to a scoreless draw in September here to open Group A play. The kickoff will be 6 p.m. Tuesday in Doha, and midnight in Seoul.

The top two teams from the group will secure automatic berths at the World Cup. South Korea have been to every World Cup since 1986.

South Korea, ranked 35th, predictably enjoyed a substantial advantage in ball possession over the 71st-ranked UAE. South Korean players left opposing defenders flustered with an array of quick passes that found holes all over the attacking third.

Cho Gue-sung had a pair of great looks in the 13th minute. First, his header from the center of the box, set up by Son Heung-min’s cross, went right at goalkeeper Ali Khasif. Moments later, Cho found himself open at the top of the penalty arc, but his low, hard shot rang off the left post.

South Korea kept pushing. At the half-hour mark, Hwang In-beom sent Son in alone with a through ball, but Son, despite getting Khasif to move out of position, only hit the right side of the net.

The icebreaker came in the 36th minute with Hwang Hee-chan’s penalty. Hwang In-beom drew the foul after being taken down by Ali Salmeen, and Hwang Hee-chan fooled Khasif and found the bottom right corner for a 1-0 South Korean lead.

Son Heung-min almost brought the house down with a near-wonder goal in the 45th minute. He sprinted from the middle of the field to the top of the box, and launched a left-footed shot that beat the goalkeeper but not the left goal post.

During injury time, Son fired a shot from point-blank range that hit Khasif in the face and bounced out of play.

South Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu barely broke a sweat, but he made one big save when he had to in the 61st minute, denying Tahnoon Al-Zaabi from the center of the box.

Son nearly doubled South Korea’s lead with a header in the 74th minute, only to see the attempt hit the crossbar.

The Tottenham Hotspur star continued to have rotten luck around the net. He sent a right-footed shot over the net in the 83rd minute, and then had another shot from close range saved by Khasif in the next minute.

Despite these close calls, South Korea had no trouble closing out the win.

South Korea attempted 22 shots, 18 more than the UAE. The home team enjoyed a 6-1 advantage in shots on target, and a 60-40 edge in ball possession.