Korea beats Uzbekistan in tune-up before World Cup qualifier
JEONJU, North Jeolla Province (Yonhap) ― Korea on Saturday beat Uzbekistan 4-2 in a football friendly, a tune-up match before a crucial World Cup qualifier next week.
At Jeonju World Cup Stadium, about 240 kilometers south of Seoul, forward Lee Dong-gook and midfielder Kim Chi-woo each scored twice, as South Korea fended off a late Uzbek charge.
Lee Dong-gook, the reigning MVP of the domestic K-League, opened the scoring for the home team in the 18th minute. After taking a pass near the penalty spot with his back to the net, Lee turned around and caught Uzbek defender Anzur Ismailov off balance before shooting it past keeper Ignatiy Nesterov.
Lee scored his second just before the first-half whistle, this time shooting it past two defenders after a nifty setup by Lee Keun-ho just inside the box.
Substitute Kim Chi-woo made it 3-0 for South Korea about 30 seconds into the second half, heading in a perfect cross from Kim Shin-sook deep in the Uzbek zone.
With the game seemingly in hand, Korean defenders turned lethargic over the game's final 20 minutes, allowing the Uzbeks to slash the deficit to one.
First, it was Anvar Rakhimov putting the visitors on board with a left-foot strike in the 77th minute. Four minutes later, Stanislav Andreev converted a penalty, awarded after Cho Sung-hwan fouled a Uzbek player following his turnover.
But Kim Chi-woo put the game out of reach for good with a curling free kick goal in the dying moments.
Despite the late defensive collapse, the victory bodes well for South Korea before its World Cup qualifier against Kuwait next Wednesday.
The showdown in Seoul will be the teams' final match in the penultimate World Cup qualification round. Despite leading Group B this round with 10 points, South Korea will be eliminated if it loses to Kuwait and if Lebanon defeats or draws the winless United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the other Group B match Wednesday.
With Lebanon heavily favored to beat the UAE, South Korea's contest against Kuwait is virtually a must-win situation.
Korea is tied with Lebanon in points but is ahead in the goal differential tiebreaker, plus-8 to minus-2. Kuwait is in third with eight points, well within reach of the top spot.
Only the top two nations from each of five groups in the ongoing round will advance to the fourth and the final qualification phase.
As the leader in Group C, Uzbekistan has already booked a berth in the next round. It didn't travel with captain Server Djeparov, the 2008 and 2011 Asian Footballer of the Year, and striker Alexander Geynrikh for this contest.
This was the first international match for Choi as the national team head coach. He was named the bench boss in December, replacing Cho Kwang-rae after Korea's 2-1 upset loss to Lebanon in November.