By Samindra Kunti
January 16 – A Son-inspired South Korea passed their first major test of the Asian Cup by beating China and Marcello Lippi 2-0 to win Group C with a perfect record and nine points. The wait for the Tottenham star was over and his impact was immediate, forcing an early penalty and provided an assist to set his team on the path to victory.
Both East Asian teams had qualified fro the round of 16 going into the clash, but the makeup of the teams suggested Paulo Bento and Lippi had different priorities. The Italian coach rotated, but his Portuguese counterpart fielded his strongest eleven, including Son Heung-min.
Son led his team out on the field and Bento’s gamble of throwing in his talisman, less than 72 hours after his club game against Manchester United, paid off. Chinese defender Shi Ke clipped South Korea’s number seven inside the box and Hwang Uijo converted coolly from the spot.
The Koreans dominated China, who reshuffled their front line as Marcello Lippi rested both Wu Lei nor Gao Lin. Up front Yu Dabao received little support from the midfield and the Koreans stormed forward slicing holes at will through a wooden Chinese reargued.
Winger Hwang Hee-Chan tested Chinese number one Yan Junling with a rasping shot and Hwang Ui-jo, released by Son, raced on to the ball only for his shot to cannon off the inside of the post.
This was an entirely different Korea from their first two 1-0 victories against the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan, but they were vulnerable to diagonals over the top and Jin Jingdao should have scored from Zhao Xuri’s long ball. His lob flew over the bar.
After the break centre back Kim Min-jae doubled South Korea’s lead with a thumping header at the near post and the Koreans were hungry for more, but in quick succession Jung Woo-yung headed off target and Hwang Uijo failed to round Junling.
At the other end Wu Xi blasted a volley over the top on the turn over – his last action of the match before he was got stretchered off. It was that kind of day for the Chinese who lacked any penetration and had just a single shot on target.
Bento’s team should have scored more. Attempts from a darting Kim Moon-hwan and Hwang Hee-Chan, from a Son set piece, went agonisingly close.
In the 88th minute Son was substituted for Koo Ja-Cheol to enthusiastic applause from the South Korean fans. Son had arrived, excelled and given a whole new and commanding look to this team.
South Korea topped Group C on 9 points with China finishing in second on 6 points. In the other group game Kyrgyzstan defeated the Philippines 3-1 and get a strong postion in the race for the third best place qualification spots.
Contact the writer if this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1571440573labto1571440573ofdlr1571440573owedi1571440573sni@o1571440573fni1571440573