Battling Malaysians make South Koreans scramble for last 16 slot

January 25 – Malaysia held South Korea to a dramatic 3-3 draw with Romel Morales’s last-ditch stoppage time equaliser condemning Jurgen Klinsmann’s team to second spot in Group E. 

The Malaysians bowed out of the tournament in style by upsetting the much-fancied Koreans in a topsy-turvy match that saw Son Heung-Min put Korea ahead in the 94th minute, but Morales levelled the score with almost the last kick of the game in a grandstand finish at the Al Janoub Stadium.

South Korea needed just a point to be assured of qualification against whipping boys Malaysia with the winner of Group E playing Japan in the second round.

Going into the final round of fixtures, Jordan, who held Korea to a draw, topped the group on goal difference.

Klinsmann enforced two changes in his backline with both Kim Tae-Hwan and Kim Young-Gwon starting. Newcomer Jeong Woo-Yeong featured on the left side of the midfield with Lee Jae-sung slotting into a defensive role. For Malaysia, Syamer Kutty and Paulo Josue dropped down to the bench while defender Matthew Davies was out of the squad entirely.

The Koreans monopolised the ball from the start and The Harimau Malaya, who last defeated South Korea in 1985, struggled in a match that at first mirrored Japan breezing past Indonesia on Wednesday. The Far East powerhouses had too much quality for the Southeast Asian side.

In the 16th minute, Son produced a first bit of magic weaving his way past two Malaysian defenders, but goalkeeper Ahmad Hazmi did well to keep out Son’s shot with his right hand. Patient in the build-up, Korea got their goal five minutes later when Woo-Yeong Jeong leapt to beat his marker at the far post to produce a fine header that Hazmi clawed away, but replays showed – and the VAR confirmed – that the ball had crossed the line. The well-deserved lead prompted a smile from Klinsmann on the bench and delayed celebrations from the Korean supporters in the stands.

The Taegeuk Warriors dominated, but often at a pedestrian pace and without a cutting edge in the final third, with most danger coming on the left channel through Son. On one such occasion, Son found Cho Gue-sung in the box on the stroke of half-time, but his header from close range was met by Hazmi’s point-blank save.

With 84% of possession, Klinsmann’s XI simply didn’t play with enough urgency, perhaps a sign that the Koreans were not all too keen on finishing in the top spot.

But the Koreans were rudely awoken from their slumber when Faisal Halim levelled the scores in the 51st minute after a goalmouth scramble that seemed to last an eternity –  just at the moment that Halim seemed to have taken too long to finish, he cheekily dispatched a looping effort into the far side of the net, leaving the Korean defence stranded.

After an agonising wait, Malaysia could celebrate a second time when the referee, following an on-field review, ruled out foul play by Lok to dispossess Hwang In-Beom in the buildup.

Worse was to come for Korea. In the 58th minute, Seol Young-Woo clipped the Malaysian forward Arif Aiman in the box and the referee, after a call to the monitor, awarded a penalty, which Aiman thumped into the bottom right corner.

After losing their first two matches conceding five goals, South Korean manager Kim Pan-Gon and his Malaysia were all of a sudden in absolute dreamland.

As it stood, Korea had dropped down to third place in the group. Klinsmann looked on dumbfounded but reacted by introducing the pair of Hong Hyun-Seok and Hwang Hee-chan.
It was the cue for a Korean siege with crosses and long balls but little coordination. Malaysia responded with some desperate last-ditch defending and they held firm until the 82nd minute when Lee Kang-In, who had been off-colour the entire match, curled a free kick past Hazmi.

Malaysia were running out of steam and Son broke their hearts from the penalty spot in the 94th minute, coolly picking out the bottom left corner to elicit the biggest cheer of the afternoon yet in Al Wakrah. And yet there was to be a final twist in the tale of a scintillating match.

In the 15th minute of injury time, substitute Morales picked up the ball inside the ‘D’ and fired the ball home with a clinical effort. It meant the world to Malaysia, whose players and coaching staff were overcome by emotions.

Malaysia return home, becoming the third Southeast Asian country after Vietnam and Indonesia to depart the Asian Cup, leaving Thailand to represent the region in the knockout stages. In their final group game, the Malaysians however proved to be a very resilient side with a bright future ahead.

South Korea’s performance left more questions than answers. At least, they have the consolation of avoiding Japan in the last 16. Instead, South Korea will face Thailand or Saudi Arabia in the second round.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1711665771labto1711665771ofdlr1711665771owedi1711665771sni@i1711665771tnuk.1711665771ardni1711665771mas1711665771



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