S. Korea beat Uzbekistan 2-1 in World Cup qualifier

November 18, 2016

SEOUL, Nov. 15 (Yonhap) — South Korea survived a stern challenge from Uzbekistan in the World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-1 victory on Tuesday.

Second-half goals from Nam Tae-hee and Koo Ja-cheol helped South Korea produce a come-from-behind victory over Uzbekistan in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Both South Korea and Uzbekistan are in Group A, along with Iran, Uzbekistan, Qatar and China in the final round.

With 10 points on three wins, one draw and one loss, South Korea have leapfrogged Uzbekistan into second place. Uzbekistan are now in third with nine points, from three wins and two losses.

Iran remained in first place with 11 points, after a scoreless draw with Syria Tuesday. Iran have three wins and two draws.

The Asian qualification, which continues until September 2017, reached its halfway point with this week’s matches. Only the top two teams in the six-nation group will earn automatic berths in the World Cup in Russia, while the third seed needs to go through the playoffs.

This was South Korea’s last match of 2016. They will wrap up this year with a record of eight wins, one draw and two losses.

South Korea, looking for their ninth consecutive World Cup appearance, came up with an aggressive lineup — starting striker Lee Jeong-hyeop up front flanked by Son Heung-min and Ji Dong-won. Team captain Ki Sung-yueng was the lone defensive midfielder.

Koo Ja-cheol of South Korea celebrates his go-ahead goal in the team's 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan in their World Cup qualifier at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Nov. 15, 2016.

Koo Ja-cheol of South Korea celebrates his go-ahead goal in the team’s 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan in their World Cup qualifier at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Nov. 15, 2016.

Uzbekistan, seeking their first World Cup appearance, fielded Igor Sergeev as their target man, supported by Shomurodov Eldor and Odil Akhmedov.

Nam Tae-hee sent a shot over the net after a corner kick in the ninth minute. Uzbekistan captain Akhmedov answered with his right-footed effort in the 17th, only to miss the target.

The visitors stunned home fans with Marat Bikmaev’s goal in the 25th. Kim Kee-hee’s poor header forced goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu to leave the penalty area for clearance, but the ball landed on Bikmaev, whose long-range looping strike found the empty net.

South Korea saw Ji’s header off a free kick hitting the crossbar in the 37th, though Ki was caught fouling before the play.

Looking for an equalizer, South Korea pushed forward with Ki’s strike in the 49th and Koo Ja-cheol’s left-footed effort one minute later. Both attempts, however, failed to challenge Uzbekistan goalkeeper Aleksandr Lobanov.

In the 54th, Ki’s long pass found Son in the box, but Davron Khashimov made a good clearance to stop the Tottenham Hotspur attacker.

Uzbekistan made their first substitution in the 61st, replacing goal scorer Bikmaev with Aleksandr Geynrikh. South Korea followed the move two minutes later as Lee Jae-sung came on for Ji.

South Korea then deployed towering striker Kim Shin-wook for Lee Jeong-hyeop in the 63rd. Just seconds after the substitution the Taeguk Warriors got their equalizer.

Son threaded a pass to left back Park Joo-ho who was running down the flank, and the Borussia Dortmund player floated cross into the box for Nam to score with a header.

Uzbekistan made their second substitution in the 81st, with Javokhir Sokhibov coming on for Shomurodov. South Korea two minutes later replaced Park Joo-ho with another left back, Hong Chul.

With just five minutes left on the clock, South Korea finally bagged the go-ahead goal with help from second-half substitutes. Kim Shin-wook headed down Hong’s cross and it found Koo, who beat Lobanov with a left-footed strike for a 2-1 lead.

South Korea and Uzbekistan were both given three minutes of stoppage time. Son was later booked for time-delaying actions on a corner kick situation, but it didn’t stop Korea from collecting their third victory in the final round in front of some 30,000 fans at the stadium.