S. Korea defeat Lebanon to stay perfect in World Cup qualification

March 24, 2016
South Korean forward Lee Jeong-hyeop celebrates his goal against Lebanon in the countries' World Cup qualifying match at Ansan Wa Stadium in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, on March 24, 2016. (Yonhap)

South Korean forward Lee Jeong-hyeop celebrates his goal against Lebanon in the countries’ World Cup qualifying match at Ansan Wa Stadium in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, on March 24, 2016. (Yonhap)

By Joo Kyung-don

ANSAN, South Korea (Yonhap) — South Korea defeated Lebanon 1-0 Thursday to stay perfect in the Asian World Cup qualification.

Second-half substitute Lee Jeong-hyeop scored in stoppage time at Ansan Wa Stadium in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, giving South Korea seven victories in seven matches in the second round of the Asian qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

South Korea, ranked 57th, have scored 24 goals and surrendered none in the second round, and remain the only nation to win all second round matches without conceding a goal.

This was also South Korea’s seventh straight clean sheet victory, tying the national record. The stretch covers six shutout victories in the World Cup qualifying round and a 3-0 victory over Jamaica in a friendly match last October.

Before facing the 145th-ranked Lebanon, South Korea had already clinched the top seed in Group G and a spot in the next qualifying round. South Korea were originally scheduled to host Kuwait next Tuesday in the final second round contest, but it has been postponed indefinitely as Kuwait remain under FIFA sanctions.

South Korea have instead scheduled a friendly match against Thailand in Bangkok Sunday.

South Korea defeated Lebanon 3-0 in their previous meeting in Lebanon last September, but chances were harder to come by for the South Koreans this time.

South Korea had nothing to show for some crisp, creative passes in the scoreless first half. Lebanon barely had the ball in the South Korean zone, and were seemingly content to play defense all night, crowding their box with eight to nine players at a time.

In the 13th, midfielder Koo Ja-cheol received a long cross and teed one up for forward Hwang Ui-jo, whose shot went off the body of a Lebanese defender at the top of the box.

South Korea continued to dominate the ball, but it wasn’t until the 33rd minute that they had another decent opportunity. A deflected cross found Hwang alone near the penalty spot, but his howitzer of a volley went right at goalkeeper Mehdi Kahlil, who punched it out of the harm’s way.

South Korea maintained their pressure from the start of the second half. Just two minutes in, defensive back Kim Jin-su jumped on a loose ball from the arc, only to send it over the crossbar.

Lebanon came back with their first dangerous chance of the night, as midfielder Hassan Maatouk went on a breakaway and fired one just wide of the left post.

In the 54th, midfielder Ki Sung-yueng curled a free kick from the left wing, but the defense cleared the ball before any South Korean could get to it.

Hwang missed another glorious opportunity in the 63rd. Koo took control of a cross on the right side and fed Hwang positioned in the goalmouth, but the forward’s redirection attempt grazed the right post and rolled out of bounds.

South Korea head coach Uli Stielike lifted Hwang for striker Lee Jeong-hyeop in the 70th to up the ante, but more than 30,500 fans here grew impatient and audibly antsy as South Korea failed to get off a decent shot in one opportunity after another. And Lebanon — needing only a draw to join South Korea in the next qualification round — resorted to time-delaying tactics, as the players were increasingly slow to get up after even slight contact.

Lee, in his first international appearance since last August after recovering from a facial injury, finally came through in injury time. Ki intercepted a clearing attempt and penetrated down the left wing to set up Lee, who poked the ball past Kahlil as he fell to the pitch in a dramatic finish.