Geum Yi

S. Korea hammer Thailand to clinch men’s football knockout berth

September 21, 2023

South Korea punched an early ticket to the knockout stage of the men’s football tournament at the 19th Asian Games on Thursday with a resounding 4-0 victory over Thailand.

Four different players chipped in a goal apiece in South Korea’s second straight victory in Group E at Jinhua Stadium in Jinhua, southwest of the main host city of Hangzhou.

South Korea pummeled Kuwait 9-0 in their opening group match Tuesday, as VfB Stuttgart midfielder Jeong Woo-yeong scored a hat trick.

In another lopsided victory, South Korea consistently found space behind the Thai defense with patient and smart passing, with their attackers also showing off some clinical finishing.

Now with six points after two consecutive victories, South Korea have clinched the top spot in Group E before playing their final group match against Bahrain on Sunday.

Kuwait and Bahrain played to a 1-1 draw earlier Thursday, giving South Korea an insurmountable 6-2 lead over Bahrain in points. The under-24 Taegeuk Warriors are going for the country’s third straight gold medal.

South Korea have played their first two matches without Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) midfielder Lee Kang-in, who arrived in Hangzhou earlier Thursday after playing in a UEFA Champions League match for his French club on Tuesday.

Lee, who has just recovered from a left quadriceps injury, watched the Thailand match from the stands, and could make his Asian Games debut on Sunday.

Following a breezy opening victory, head coach Hwang Sun-hong inserted five new players into the starting lineup. But South Korea didn’t miss a beat, as KAA Gent midfielder Hong Hyun-seok headed home a Goh Young-jun cross for South Korea’s first goal on 15 minutes.

Five minutes later, An Jae-jun doubled South Korea’s lead with his second goal of the competition.

Um Won-sang also netted his second of the tournament to put South Korea up 3-0 in the 39th minute, converting a nifty give-and-go with Goh in the box.

South Korea built a 4-0 lead during first half added time, with defender Lee Jae-ik pouncing on the loose ball after Hong’s free kick was blocked by a Thai defender.

South Korea had a momentary lapse of concentration on defense in the opening moments of the second half, with Yotsakorn Burapha misfiring on a gaping net after moving in alone on goalkeeper Lee Gwang-yeon.

South Korea failed to add to their lead over the final 45 minutes, though it wasn’t for lack of opportunities.

Bak Jae-yong, who had a goal against Kuwait, almost headed home another goal in the 78th minute, only to see goalkeeper Nopphon Lakhonphon deny him with a desperate save.

Moments later, Cho Young-wook picked a Thai defender’s pocket near the box and caught Lakhonphon well out of position. But Cho, fresh off a brace against Kuwait, failed to roll the ball into the empty net.

Coach Hwang made several substitutions in the second half that ensured all but two outfield players — Lee Kang-in and Song Min-kyu — have now been in action.