S. Korea qualify for 9th consecutive FIFA World Cup

By Yonhap

Published : Sep 6, 2017 - 02:16
Updated : Sep 6, 2017 - 09:16

South Korea advanced to their ninth consecutive FIFA World Cup following a scoreless draw against Uzbekistan in their final qualifying match Tuesday.

The teams traded 30 shots without landing one in the back of the net at Bunyodkor Stadium, but South Korea earned to right to compete at the 2018 World Cup in Russia after Iran and Syria ended in a 2-2 draw.

South Korea finished in second place in Group A of the final Asian qualifying round with 15 points from four wins, three draws and three losses. Iran won the group with 22 points.

South Korea's consecutive World Cup appearance is the longest such streak in Asia and tied with Spain for the fifth longest overall. The European qualification is still ongoing and Spain are trying to advance to their 10th straight World Cup.

South Korean players throw their head coach Shin Tae-yong in the air in celebration after qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup following a scoreless draw against Uzbekistan at Bunyodkor Stdium in Tashkent on Sept. 5, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea entered this contest sitting two points above Syria and Uzbekistan, but still controlled their own destiny. A win would have clinched the World Cup berth outright, but the draw meant South Koreans had to hold their breath and wait for the Iran-Syria match to finish a few minutes later.

Only the top two teams earned automatic World Cup berths, with the third-place team falling into a playoff against the No. 3 seed from Group B for a final chance to qualify.

South Korea have played in every World Cup since 1986.

South Korea hit the crossbar and then a goal post in the scoreless first half -- once each at the start and at the end -- while Uzbekistan dominated the ball possession the majority of the time.

Barely two minutes into the match, Hwang Hee-chan's left-footed shot from an awkward angle surprised Uzbekistan goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov, who breathed a sigh of relief when the attempt rang off the crossbar.

Uzbekistan soon took control and began pushing around South Korea in the offensive zone. Uzbekistan players fired shots and sent crosses at will from all angles, as South Korea sat back too much and gave away plenty of space.

In the 21st, Azizbek Khaydarov launched a long-distance shot that beat goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu but not the left post.

South Korea fought back near the half-hour mark, when Jang Hyun-soo's redirection of a Kwon Chang-hoon corner bounced wide left of the goal.

South Korea wasted another golden opportunity in the dying seconds of the first half. Hwang Hee-chan sprung Son Heung-min behind the defense for an open look on the right side of the box, but Tottenham Hotspur winger saw his hard shot go off the inner part of the left post.

Late in the first half, South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong was forced to make his first substitution as Jang came down with an apparent lower body injury. Koo Ja-cheol took his place in midfield.

South Korea turned up the heat on Uzbekistan in the second half. After a pretty tic-tac-toe play in the 58th, Lee Keun-ho's right-footed shot from the left side of the box went wide of the target.

Seven minutes later, fullback Kim Min-woo jumped in on the attack and fired a shot right at Nesterov, after a clearing attempt went right to him just inside the box.

South Korea kept the pressure on in the next minute, as Hwang Hee-chan, on the receiving end of a sharp Koo Ja-cheol pass, rolled a shot just wide of the left post from a difficult angle.

South Korea gradually narrowed the gap on ball possession, and Uzbekistan didn't really threaten the opposing net until late in the second half.

The best opportunity came in the 81st off the foot of substitute Alexander Geynrikh, who took a deft pass from Odil Ahmedov and struck a low shot to near corner from the left wing, forcing Kim Seung-gyu to make his toughest save of the match.

South Korea came close again in the 86th, when Lee Dong-gook's header bounced in front of Nesterov and struck the crossbar.

Lee wasted another opportunity three minutes later. Hwang threaded a pass through defenders to set up Lee in alone on Nesterov, who made a match-saving stop on the forward. The rebound went straight to Son, who fired it wide right of the net.

With their own draw, South Korea needed Iran to avoid a shocking loss to Syria to qualify. Syria scored late in that match to pull into a tie, putting the South Korean team and a few hundred supporters on the edge of their seats, but Iran held on for a 2-2 draw to help South Korea's cause. (Yonhap)

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