Weak South Korea ‘lucky’ to edge Kuwait 1-0

South Korea’s Jang Hyun-soo (left) fights for the ball against Kuwait’s Faisal Alenezi during their Asian Cup Group A match at the Canberra stadium, January 13, 2015. — Reuters pic
South Korea’s Jang Hyun-soo (left) fights for the ball against Kuwait’s Faisal Alenezi during their Asian Cup Group A match at the Canberra stadium, January 13, 2015. — Reuters pic

CANBERRA, Jan 13 — South Korea laboured to a “lucky” 1-0 win over Kuwait today, making it two wins from two and putting them within touching distance of the Asian Cup quarter-finals.

Nam Tae-Hee scored a first-half winner as Taeguk Warriors boss Uli Stielike made seven changes from the starting eleven that defeated Oman by a solitary goal in his side’s opening match at the weekend.

The majority of changes were forced with midfielder Lee Chung-Yong ruled out of the rest of the Asian Cup earlier in the day after suffering a leg fracture in the victory over the Gulf side.

Right-back Kim Chang-Soo, who was taken off early in the Oman match after a crunching tackle, also failed to recover in time, while Saturday’s goal-scorer Cho Young-Cheol started on the bench.

A bout of fever has also struck down the squad in recent days, particularly affecting Bayer Leverkusen star Son Heung-Min, who also missed today’s game.

“There was no objective behind the changes, it was circumstance,” Stielike said. “We had three injured players from the Oman match. One has finished the tournament and the other two couldn’t recover in time.

“In the last two days we’ve had a big, big problem with fever in the team. Today we had eight players on the bench but really just four players without problems.”

Stielike said Son had trouble standing up and was even taken to hospital to be checked out.

“We don’t know if some of these guys who played today will be sick tomorrow,” said the German. “You don’t know which player it might affect next.”

It was one of the replacements, Lee Keun-Ho, who should have opened the scoring on the half-hour mark when he was put clean through on goal by a delightful threaded pass from Kim Min-Woo.

‘Very, very lucky’

Rather than blast the ball, Lee opted for a delicate chip but it was well saved by Kuwait goalkeeper Hameed Youssef, much to the annoyance of Stielike on the touchline.

But six minutes later South Korea had their breakthrough when midfielder Nam connected powerfully with a perfect cross from the marauding Cha Du-Ri to bury a header past Youssef, sending the majority-Korean support into raptures.

Stielike made one more change at halftime, bringing on marksman Cho, but it was the Kuwaitis who started the second period the sharpest, almost snatching an immediate equaliser as wide man Ali Almaqseed’s fizzing drive slammed against the post.

The final 30 minutes was end-to-end with both sides having good chances, and the Koreans looking vulnerable at the back. Lee headed just wide before Fahed Al Ebrahim’s deft poke was pushed out for a corner at the other end.

“In a lot of phases in the game, Kuwait were the better team,” Stielike said. “They had more of the ball, more moves. I consider the result very, very lucky today. I didn’t expect that we would have so many problems.”

Kuwaiti midfielder Aziz Mashaan, named man of the match, felt the Gulf side should have won but admitted: “We missed too many chances.” — AFP

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