South Korea defeated Iceland 1-0 Friday in their final match before the upcoming FIFA World Cup, with several players on the bubble unable to make a compelling case for their places on the squad for the big tournament.
Midfielder Song Min-kyu scored his first international goal in the 33rd minute at Hwaseong Sports Complex Main Stadium in Hwaseong, some 40 kilometers south of Seoul, but South Korea, ranked 28th, couldn‘t muster any more offense against the 62nd-ranked Iceland.
Head coach Paulo Bento is scheduled to announce his 26-man World Cup roster on Saturday in Seoul, and the team will travel to Qatar early Monday. At the World Cup, South Korea will play Uruguay on Nov. 24, Ghana on Nov. 28 and Portugal on Dec. 2.
Friday’s match, and the two-week training camp that preceded it, mostly featured players in South Korea‘s K League, along with a few others based in China, Japan and the Middle East. Europe-based players were not available because the camp did not fall during the FIFA international match window. This was to serve as Bento’s last opportunity to check Asian league players trying to make the World Cup squad.
Accounting for spots likely going to usual suspects, players at this training camp have been battling for about a dozen places on the Qatar-bound team.
Against Iceland, Bento went with a back-three formation for the first time since September 2019, with three center backs handling the majority of defensive duties and two wing backs on either side
In this unfamiliar setup, South Korean players looked a bit out of sorts in the early going, with turnovers in their own zone leading to open looks for Iceland.
But South Korea still dominated the ball possession and put pressure on the opposing defense with promising forays into box.
Jung Woo-young‘s shot from close range was blocked by defenders in the 16th minute, while the left-footed Hong Chul walked into shot on his right foot and airmailed the ball three minutes later.
In the 27th, forward Cho Gue-sung’s mid-range strike sailed right into goalkeeper Frederik Schram.
Cho then set up the match‘s opening goal six minutes later. After taking a deft through ball from Kwon Chang-hoon, Cho undressed a defender to create some space and sent a left-footed cross for Song, who made no mistake with his header.
Cho nearly got in on the scoring act in the 36th, but his header, set up by Hong’s cross, went just over the bar.
But the joy of the first-half lead soon gave way to dread, as defender Park Ji-su was stretchered off with a left ankle injury. Park stepped on the foot of a defender as he tried to take off in an aerial duel, and couldn‘t put any weight on his left foot.
In pursuit of his second goal in the 61st minute, Song cut toward the center from the left but his right-footed curler went off a defender and out of play.
For the rest of the second half, though, South Korea did not generate as many opportunities as in the first half. New forward Oh Hyeon-gyu would have had an easy goal in the 81st minute, when Na Sang-ho’s low cross found him wide open on the doorstep. But Oh, a 21-year-old in his first international match, slipped and fell to the pitch without even getting a shot off.
Midfielder Jung Woo-young walked off the pitch with an apparent leg injury in the 83rd, but South Korea had used up all six of their substitutions by that point. They played the rest of the match a man down, but hung on for the narrow win.
South Korea will be playing in their 10th consecutive World Cup. They have been to the knockouts twice, having reached the semifinals in 2002 when they were co-hosts with Japan and the round of 16 in 2010 in South Africa. (Yonhap)