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Posted : 2012-02-23 16:28
Updated : 2012-02-23 16:28

Korea clinches London berth


Korea’s Olympic footballers toss their manager Hong Myung-bo into the air after defeating Oman 3-0 in their qualifying match for the 2012 London Olympics at the Al Seeb Stadium in Muscat, Oman, Wednesday. Korea has reached the Summer Olympics for the seventh straight time.
/ Reuters-Yonhap

By Cho Mu-hyun

Korea’s Olympic football team defeated Oman 3-0 Thursday to secure the nation’s place at the London Games in July.

Hong Myung-bo’s Under-23s destroyed the home side at the Al Seeb Sports Stadium, to remain atop Group A with 11 points, four clear of second-placed Oman. The result sees Korea heading to London regardless of the outcome of the last group game against Qatar on March 14.

It will mark the country’s ninth overall and seventh straight appearance at the Summer Games since the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

The players could not conceal their joy, and rushed towards their manager on hearing the final whistle and threw him up in the air in celebration.

“As a leader, I have been tossed up in the air a couple of times,” said the 42-year-old. “But what the players did for me today is the happiest time being tossed in the air of my football life.”

“We (played) in difficult circumstances, but our players had confidence that they would not lose. They played smart and calm even in unexpected situations and led the game,” he added.

Hong, known to rarely complement his squad lavished heavy praise for the exceptional performance that led to a first win in a Middle Eastern outing: “I am honored to be the manager of these players. They did not get worked up and showed everything that they prepared.” The home crowd was raucous, though most headed for the exits after Korea’s third goal, while the remaining fans threw water bottles, trash and even firecrackers onto the pitch.

Hong singled out debutant Nam Tae-hee, who scored the opening goal just 15 seconds into the game and sparked his team’s dominance saying, “Nam Tae-hee is basically a talented player. He played better than 100 percent of what was intended in today’s match. It was like acquiring a whole army that gave us a new offensive option in a difficult situation.”

FC Seoul forward Kim Hyun-sung who cemented the team’s lead in the second half said, “I am happy that we earned the much desired entry to the Games together.”

Hong stressed that putting “pressure on the other side” was the priority before the game, and repeatedly stated that “ceding the first goal” was his top concern.

But his concerns proved to be unwarranted.

Nam, who joined the squad from Qatari club Lekhwiya, scored only moments after kick-off when he collected Kim Min-woo’s blocked pass and shot past goalkeeper Mahand Al Zaabi.

There was danger when keeper Lee Beom-young received a yellow card for holding onto the ball too long on 28 minutes. Oman were awarded an indirect free kick inside the penalty area but failed to convert the opportunity.

Kim Hyun-sung doubled Korea’s advantage in the 68th minute when he headed home a free kick by Park Jong-woo. Kim Min-woo, who plays for J-League second division outfit Sagan Tosu, came on for Nam 20 minutes into the second half and made an almost immediate impact, wrapping up the scoring in the 72nd minute thanks to Kim Bo-kyung’s sharp pass.

The Korea football team’s first Olympic appearance was in London in 1948, but failed to qualify again until the Seoul Games. The team’s best performance came in 2004 in Greece, led by Huh Jung-moo, reaching the quarterfinals but ultimately losing 3-2 against Paraguay. The team will return to London 74 years after their debut and have set their goal as making the semifinals.

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