South Korea on brink of World Cup after beating Uzbekistan
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea is on the brink of qualifying for the World Cup after defeating Uzbekistan 1-0 thanks to a first-half own goal from Akmal Shorakhmedov.
The win on Tuesday means South Korea needs just a point from its final game to qualify from Asia Group A for an eighth successive World Cup appearance.
It was a deserved win for the host in a game played at a frantic pace in wet conditions. The deadlock was broken just before halftime as Shorakhmedov headed a Kim Young-gwon cross firmly into his own net.
By that time, South Korea, which made six changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Lebanon seven days ago, should already have been ahead. Asian Player of the Year Lee Keun-ho missed an easy chance after 17 minutes, shooting wide from close range.
Uzbekistan needed a win to qualify for a first-ever World Cup and a draw to keep control of its destiny going into the final round of games next week yet.
South Korea, led by the energetic Son Heung-min, one of the stars of the Bundesliga season, and Lee Chung-yong of Bolton Wanderers, turned up the pressure midway through the second half but was unable to get the goal to calm nerves among the 50,000 fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
"There was a lot of pressure on the players after the result in Lebanon,'' South Korea coach Choi Kang-hee told reporters. "We knew that Uzbekistan was in good form and playing well but the players kept their concentration right up to the last second and that was why we were able to win.''
Group A is still tight with South Korea, Uzbekistan and Iran all chasing two qualification spots. Although South Korea is top of the group, Choi is not taking anything for granted.
"We are not thinking about the World Cup,'' he said. "We still have work to do against Iran. We know that will be a tough game and that is what we are focusing on now.''
Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov did not dwell on the own goal that was to prove vital.
"It was a tough game as we expected,'' he said. "Football is not an individual game. The team as a whole tried its best and it is not just about one or two players.''
Kasimov knows if South Korea defeats Iran next Tuesday in Ulsan and his team takes three points at home to Qatar then Uzbekistan will still make it to Brazil.
"All is not lost as we have another opportunity at home next week,'' he said. "It will be good if Korea can play well against Iran in the last game. We also will do our best against Qatar.''
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