KOREA REPUBLIC 2
J.S. Lee 7, J.S. Park 52
Korea Republic strolled to a comfortable 2-0 win over Greece in the opening match of Group B in Port Elizabeth. Goals from Lee Jung-Soo and Park Ji-Sung were enough to claim the three points and the margin of victory should have been greater against a Greek side who offered little resistance.
The South Koreans took an early lead through centre-back Lee Jung-Soo who was left unmarked at the back post from Ki Sung-Yong’s free-kick. The cross had inadvertently deflected into Lee’s path off the head of Greece’s Kostas Katsouranis and he was left with an easy first-time finish. Park Chu-Young should have doubled the advantage just before the half-hour mark but he was denied by Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas having been played through by Park Ji-Sung’s accurate through-ball.
It took just seven minutes of the second-half for Korea to deservedly stretch their lead. Captain Park Ji-Sung pounced on a mistake from Loukas Vyntra, holding off the challenge of Avraam Papadopoulos before coolly sending Tzorvas the wrong way. It should have been three after 63 minutes when Park Chu-Young put a free header over the bar from the impressive Cha Du-Ri’s deep cross.
Theofanis Gekas had the best Greek chance in the 81st minute but his fierce volley was straight at Jung Sung-Ryong who tipped it over. Jung had earlier held a header from substitute Dimitrios Salpigidis but Greece rarely threatened. Lee Chung-Yong came close to adding a late third but his accurate shot lacked the venom to beat Tzorvas at his near post.
The result puts Korea Republic in a strong position to qualify from Group B and will be a huge fillip ahead of their next game against group favourites Argentina. Greece face an uphill struggle and there were few signs that they can reach the knockout stages.
For a team playing with three natural forwards, there was very little attacking intent to be seen by Greece for much of the game. With neither Angelos Charisteas nor Georgios Samaras – operating on either side of Theofanis Gekas – possessing much in the way of pace, there was very little opportunity for the Greeks to get in behind the Korean full-backs. Gekas was the top scorer in the European qualifying section but it is hard to see how he found the opportunity to grab 10 goals in such a negative side. The Greek attacking repertoire mostly consisted of hopeful diagonal balls into the area from deep but this only once came close to paying off when Korea Republic keeper Jung Sung-Ryong spilt a catch on his line under pressure from Gekas, seemingly blaming the sun in his eyes.
It was the Koreans who provided the majority of the attacking thrust in the first-half but they suffered from a lack of cohesion once they reached the opposition third of the field. They looked very comfortable in possession in their own half, with their defensive players possessing good technique on the ball. Surprisingly for a team whose standout names are all attackers, the interplay between the forwards was a little uncertain and prevented Huh Jung-Moo’s side from going in at the break with a bigger lead than 1-0. At least there was a real willingness to get forward and take the initiative from South Korea and a little more composure around their opponents’ penalty area would have seen them reap the rewards. Greece were hesitant in defence and were fortunate not to have paid further for their slackness before half-time.
It was some further sloppy defending from Greece that gifted Korea the second goal, with Loukas Vyntra carelessly miscontrolling a square pass, allowing Park Ji-Sung to steal in and score. If Korea might not have taken advantage of such a moment before the interval, there was no such hesitancy from Park this time. The Manchester United man has significantly improved his composure in front of goal over the past couple of seasons, most noticeably his superb breakaway goal in United’s 3-1 win at Highbury in January. It was a needless goal to give away for the Greeks, with Vyntra under little pressure when he received the ball. Park’s reaction was swift to the error and the game was dead and buried with most of the second-half to play.
The introduction of Dimitrios Salpigidis and Pantelis Kapetanos gave Greece more attacking thrust in the latter stages of the match but there was little choice for Otto Rehhagel’s side but to push forward having found themselves 2-0 down. Right-back Giourkas Seitaridis, one of the stars of the Euro 2004 win, began to get forward regularly but it was too little, too late. His opposite number, Cha Du-Ri, had shown a willingness to get forward right from kick-off and Greece will need to play on the front foot for 90 minutes in their remaining games if they are to stand any chance of progress. The Greeks were behind after just seven minutes but it took until the 70th minute for them to take any sort of initiative.
Korea Republic – Jung – Cha, Cho, J.S. Lee, Y.P. Lee – C.Y. Lee (J.S. Kim 90), Ki (N.I. Kim 74), J.W. Kim, J.S. Park, C.Y. Park (S.Y. Lee 87), Yeom
Greece – Tzorvas – Seitaridis, Papadopoulos, Vyntra, Torosidis – Tziolis, Katsouranis, Karagounis (Patsatzoglou 46) – Charisteas (Kapetanos 61), Gekas, Samaras (Salpigidis 59)