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10-man S. Korea defeat Iraq in final Asian Cup tuneup

By Yonhap

Published : Jan. 7, 2024 - 08:51

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Lee Jae-sung of South Korea (Center) high-fives teammate Jung Seung-hyun after scoring against Iraq during the teams' friendly football match at New York University Abu Dhabi Stadium on Saturday.(Korea Football Association) Lee Jae-sung of South Korea (Center) high-fives teammate Jung Seung-hyun after scoring against Iraq during the teams' friendly football match at New York University Abu Dhabi Stadium on Saturday.(Korea Football Association)

South Korea held off Iraq 1-0 in their final tuneup match before the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Midfielder Lee Jae-sung scored the first goal late in the first half at New York University Abu Dhabi Stadium, but the Taegeuk Warriors were unable to add to that lead in the second half despite dominating the run of play.

South Korea played the final handful of minutes a man down after Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in was sent off on his second yellow card of the match following a shoving match with Ahmed Yahya, who also took a yellow card for initiating contact after the ball was whistled dead.

South Korea have now won six straight matches. They have scored 20 goals and conceded none during this stretch.

Coached by Jurgen Klinsmann, South Korea set up pre-Asian Cup training camp in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. They will travel to the Asian Cup host country of Qatar next Wednesday.

South Korea will try to win their first Asian Cup since 1960. The top AFC men's tournament kicks off next Friday, and South Korea's first Group E match is Jan. 15 against Bahrain.

They will then play Jordan on Jan. 20 and Malaysia on Jan. 25.

There are six groups of four nations. The top two teams from each group, plus four best third-place teams, will advance to the knockouts.

Iraq will play in Group D against Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam. If South Korea win Group E and Iraq finish second in Group D, they will square off in the round of 16 on Jan. 31 in Doha.

Klinsmann benched most of his big-name stars at the start, including Tottenham Hotspur talisman and captain Son Heung-min. Wolverhampton Wanderers attacker Hwang Hee-chan, PSG midfielder Lee Kang-in, Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae and FC Midtjylland forward Cho Gue-sung were also out of the starting lineup.

Youngsters also based in Europe, such as Celtic FC forward Oh Hyeong-gyu, VfB Stuttgart forward Jeong Woo-yeong and KAA Gent midfielder Hong Hyun-seok, drew into the starting XI.

The lineup did feature a few regulars, including Crvena zvezda midfielder Hwang In-beom, Mainz 05 midfielder Lee Jae-sung, and Ulsan HD FC defenders Jung Seung-hyun and Seol Young-woo. In goal, Kim Seung-gyu received his eighth start in South Korea's past nine matches.

With many of the players playing together for the first time, unfamiliarity led to some shaky play in the opening moments. Iraq nearly broke the ice two minutes in, when Ibrahim Bayesh got behind the defense for a clean look. Goalkeeper Kim bailed out his porous defense with a tough save.

In the 14th minute, Saad Natiq tried to volley home a free kick taken by Amir Al-Ammari, but Kim was up to the task again and kept the match scoreless.

South Korea gradually found their groove as the match progressed, and attackers began relying on quick passes through seams to poke holes in the opposing defense.

Right back Seol Young-woo stole the ball deep in the Iraqi zone and set up Jeong Woo-yeong for a header that went right at goalkeeper Jalal Hassan in the 19th minute.

Hassan then denied Oh Hyeon-gyu on a volley set up by Lee Ki-je's pinpoint cross from the left.

Oh, in his eighth international appearance, thought he finally had his first goal when he slotted home a Seol pass in the 29th minute -- only to have it called back on an offside ruling.

South Korea finally put one past Hassan that counted, as Lee Jae-sung unleashed a cannon off his left foot from outside the box in the 40th minute.

The big boys for South Korea all came off the bench to begin the second half, with Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan, Lee Kang-in, Kim Min-jae and Cho Gue-sung providing instant spark up front.

Cho nearly doubled South Korea's lead about a minute after the restart, as his right-footed shot ricocheted off a defender and just off the intended target.

On 66 minutes, Lee's patented through ball found Son charging into the Iraqi box. Son couldn't get the shot off and was instead brought down by the hands of diving Hassan, though no penalty was called on the play.

Cho missed the net to the right with a header following Lee's corner from the left on 75 minutes.

The match got a little testy in the late stretches, and Lee and Yahya got into a scuffle after a tough battle for the ball. Both players were cautioned, but it was Lee's second yellow card of the match.

Despite being short-handed, South Korea preserved their narrow lead to stretch their winning streak to six. (Yonhap)