2018 World Cup Asian qualifiers: Tottenham’s Son Heung-min inspires South Korea to victory over China
South Korea 3 China 2
Zheng Zhi’s early own goal ultimately condemned China to a 3-2 defeat to South Korea on Thursday despite a spirited fightback in their 2018 World Cup qualifier.
China’s main man became their fall-guy as he inadvertently bundled Son Heung-min’s free kick into his own net on 20 minutes at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-cheol both scored to pile on the pain for China but the visitors nearly hauled their way back into it following late strikes from Yu Hai and Hao Junmin.
However, a precious equaliser eluded Gao Hongbo’s men and they start with a defeat as they embark on the year-long final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
After Zheng’s own goal, it wasn’t until the 62nd minute that Lee climbed to head South Korea’s second, before Koo slotted their third four minutes later.
Yu’s blistering finish pulled one back for China and when Hao curled in a textbook free kick with 14 minutes on the clock, South Korean nerves were jangling.
Son, fighting for his place at English club Tottenham Hotspur, was in the thick of it in the early exchanges and he shot wide on 18 minutes.
Two minutes later, Zhang Linpeng was booked for bringing down Oh Jae-suk just outside the box. From Son’s free kick, Ji Dong-won’s glancing header went in off Zheng’s shin.
Another Ji header nearly doubled South Korea’s lead shortly afterwards, and the unmarked Lee Chung-yong then missed a great chance when he skied his volley over the bar.
Meanwhile China were getting little joy and it wasn’t until the 28th minute that they had their first clear sight of the Korean goal, when Wu Lei broke down the right before losing his balance and shooting harmlessly wide.
Their best chance of the first half came when Yu intercepted a pass and released Wu one-on-one with goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong, before the forward again miscued.
China started the second half strongly but it was South Korea who took control of the game when Ji’s cross picked out Lee for a powerful header and a 2-0 lead.
Koo then converted a fine cross by Son for 3-0, seemingly putting the game out of reach for China.
But Yu and Hao had other ideas, leading a strong rally to make the game far closer than the hosts had bargained for.
South Korea hung on for the narrow victory, with goalkeeper Jung making some crucial saves as the clock ticked down.
Australia 2 Iraq 0
Massimo Luongo and Tomi Juric were both on target as Australia overcame a dogged Iraq outfit to win 2-0 in their 2018 World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
The home side were strong favourites to win their opening Group B match but they didn’t have it all their own way until Queens Park Rangers’ Luongo and Luzern striker Juric scored in a seven-minute, second-half burst.
“It was a great way to come back today,” said Juric, who was recalled by Australia manager Ange Postecoglou after missing Australia’s friendlies against Greece in June.
“There definitely could have been a few more [goals] on our side, but it is a great result to start this campaign.”
Although the Australians dominated possession in the first half, the Iraqis were organised in defence while occasionally threatening on the counter-attack.
Juric almost opened the scoring just 10 seconds after the start, but his shot was blocked by the hand of goalkeeper Mohammed Hameed.
Australia’s Mathew Leckie also hit the woodwork with a long-range header, while Iraq’s Ahmed Yasin was unlucky not to win a penalty when pulled down in the box by Brad Smith.
The Australians were desperate to start the final stage of qualifying with a win and the longer the match went on, the more anxious their fans were getting.
The game suddenly opened up 10 minutes into the second half, with Aaron Mooy hitting the crossbar and Australian goalkeeper Mathew Ryan forced into a save from Ali Abbas.
The ball went straight down the other end after the Ryan save and Juric inexplicably missed a peach of a chance from close range.
But just minute later, Luongo eased Aussie nerves when he got behind the Iraqi defence and was left with a relatively simple task to knock in a Juric cross and give Australia the lead after 57 minutes.
Juric had another shot well blocked in the 64th minute, but he finally got his reward from the resulting corner when he scored from close range.
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Published: September 1, 2016 04:00 AM