World Cup regular South Korea was closer to booking a spot in Asia’s fourth and final round of qualifiers for Brazil 2014 with a hard-fought 2-0 win over United Arab Emirates on Friday.
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Lee Keun-ho and captain Park Chu-young scored late second-half goals to keep the unbeaten Koreans on top of Group B after four matches.
South Korea beat UAE 2-1 at home a month ago, but didn’t expect as hard a match as it got on Friday.
The visitors didn’t break the deadlock until four minutes were left, when Lee sidefooted into an open net. Then Park slid into the goalmouth to bundle the ball across the line in the second minute of injury time.
Coach Rae Chong-kwang saluted his men for taking full points against a determined UAE.
”It was unexpectedly difficult, but our players showed their will and motivation,” Rae said.
”I will keep the team intact until the end of our stay in the Middle East (when they face Lebanon on Tuesday).
”In the first half we focused on stabilizing our defense and midfield, and that’s why we didn’t venture deeper into their half, but in the second half we changed our tactics and it worked well.”
UAE came up with the first chance of the match but captain Subait Khater was a tad late in pulling the trigger from the edge of the area in the 7th minute.
Park missed a great opportunity on 19 minutes after a counterattack allowed him to go clear with just UAE goalkeeper Majed Naser to beat. Park, though, hesitated and Basheer Saeed raced back to regain possession for the hosts.
Soon after, Saeed was shot straight at South Korea goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong from a 25-meter free kick, and Mohammed Ahmed missed for the home side after a free kick left him open to shoot in the 35th.
UAE midfielder Ali Abbas nearly scored an own goal when his glancing header threatened to go in before it was cleared by Fares Juma with five minutes to play in the first half.
South Korea returned stronger after the break and won an early free kick that was fired wide by Hong Chul, but at the other end Ismail Al Hammadi swivelled and half-volleyed high from close range for UAE.
Mohammed Ahmed pushed over Park in the box from behind, but the referee ignored pleas from South Korea for a penalty. The Koreans eventually came through at the very end.