(LEAD) S. Korea defeat Lebanon to move closer to World Cup berth

유지호 / 2022-01-28 02:02:48
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(LEAD) S Korea-World Cup qualifier
▲ Cho Gue-sung of South Korea (L) celebrates his goal against Lebanon during the teams' Group A match in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Saida International Stadium in Sidon, Lebanon, on Jan. 27, 2022. (Yonhap)

▲ Hwang Ui-jo of South Korea takes a shot against Lebanon during the teams' Group A match in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Saida International Stadium in Sidon, Lebanon, on Jan. 27, 2022. (Yonhap)

▲ Kwon Chang-hoon of South Korea (R) and Maher Sabra of Lebanon battle for the ball during the teams' Group A match in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Saida International Stadium in Sidon, Lebanon, on Jan. 27, 2022. (Yonhap)

▲ Lee Yong of South Korea (L) attempts a pass past Soony Saad of Lebanon during the teams' Group A match in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Saida International Stadium in Sidon, Lebanon, on Jan. 27, 2022. (Yonhap)

(LEAD) S Korea-World Cup qualifier

(LEAD) S. Korea defeat Lebanon to move closer to World Cup berth

(ATTN: UPDATES with latest results in paras 3-6)

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea beat Lebanon 1-0 in their latest World Cup qualifying match on Thursday, moving a step closer to securing their 10th straight trip to the sport's showpiece event.

Starting forward Cho Gue-sung scored late in the first half and South Korea held on for dear life in Group A action at Saida International Stadium, in Sidon, south of Beirut.

South Korea improved to 17 points with five wins and two draws to stay in second place behind Iran, which blanked Iraq 1-0 at home Thursday to reach 19 points and become the first Asian team to qualify for this year's World Cup in Qatar.

There are two groups of six in the current qualification stage and the top two nations from each group will grab automatic tickets to Qatar. With three matches to go, Iran have been assured of at least the second seed.

If the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had lost to Syria or settled for a draw later Thursday in Dubai, South Korea would have joined Iran on the direct path to the World Cup. Instead, the UAE beat Syria 2-0 to move to nine points, keeping their slim hopes alive of catching South Korea over the remaining three matches.

South Korea's next opportunity to qualify for the World Cup comes Tuesday against Syria. They can grab an automatic spot with a win, regardless of the UAE's result against Iran the same day.

South Korea beat Lebanon without captain Son Heung-min, who suffered a leg injury earlier this month while playing for Tottenham Hotspur.

Struggling to generate much offensive rhythm on a bumpy field, South Korea still made frequent forays deep into the Lebanese zone with long balls or quick short passes.

Forward Hwang Ui-jo tried to head home Lee Yong's cross but put it right at goalkeeper Mostafa Matar in the 16th minute. Near the half-hour mark, Kwon Chang-hoon's right-footed shot from just inside the box rolled wide of the left post.

South Korea dodged a huge bullet in the 39th minute when during a goalmouth scramble following a free kick, Robert Alexander Melki's volley struck the crossbar. His younger brother, George Felix Melki, pounced on the ensuing rebound but missed the net to the right.

Cho then broke the deadlock during first-half injury time. Hwang Ui-jo threaded a perfect cross from the left wing, and Cho snuck behind two defenders as he slid and redirected the ball into the net.

It was Cho's second goal in his past three international matches.

South Korea kept pushing for a second goal. Lee Jae-sung's diving header in the 71st minute bounced just wide left of the target. Some eight minutes later, Kwon hit the right side of the net with his left-footed volley

Hwang Ui-jo, who assisted on the first goal, had a couple of chances for himself late in the second half. He took a hard shot from just inside the box but it went straight to Matar. A couple of minutes later, Hwang took a pass from Kwon and launched his patented turnaround shot, though he didn't put enough behind the ball.

Lebanon missed out on a last-minute free kick opportunity and South Korea remained undefeated in the qualifying phase.

South Korea will next face Syria on Tuesday. Syria will be the home team but the match will take place in Dubai as the neutral venue for the civil war-ravaged country.

South Korea have played at every World Cup since 1986. This year's tournament kicks off on Nov. 21.

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