Asian Cup: South Korea sink Uzbeks to secure third place

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South Korea bowed out of the Asian Cup in style by edging Uzbekistan 3-2 in an entertaining third-place play-off on Friday to secure an automatic place at the 2015 tournament in Australia.

Cho Kwang-Rae’s men looked on course for a handsome victory at 3-0 up in the first-half, but Uzbekistan clawed back the deficit to salvage some pride after their 6-0 drubbing by Australia in the semi-finals.

“I can’t be satisfied with third place in the tournament, but I do want to acknowledge all the sacrifices that the players have made,” said South Korea coach Cho. “They were extremely tired but they did their best.

“In the first half the performance of our team was very good, even excellent. But in the second half the players showed their fitness levels were almost zero and that caused a lot of difficult situations.”

Koo Ja-Cheol’s fifth goal of the competition, making him outright top scorer, set South Korea on their way, before Ji Dong-Won claimed a brace with a pair of artfully constructed strikes.

Goals either side of half-time from Alexander Geynrikh brought the Uzbeks back into the game, but Korea held on to claim third place at the continental showpiece for the third time in four tournaments.

Australia meet three-time champions Japan in Saturday’s final.

“I don’t know if it’s psychological, but the players made so many mistakes (in the first half),” said Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov.

“I told the players at half-time: everything you prepared for this tournament is at stake in the second half.

“And in the second half they played much better and even had a chance to draw. We just didn’t have enough time.”

Captain Park Ji-Sung was left out of the Korea squad to spare him from injury and Cho confirmed that he has decided to retire from international duty, praising his “remarkable job for Korean football”.

Koo broke the deadlock in the 17th minute at the Al-Sadd Stadium, calmly beating Uzbek goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov after Lee Yong-Rae had launched a barrelling one-man counter-attack from deep inside the Korean half.

Odil Akhmedov was partly at fault for the goal, allowing Lee Yong-Rae’s pass to roll beneath his foot, but the reluctant centre-back almost atoned with a 22-yard curler that landed a yard or two wide of the right-hand post.

Korea’s football has received plenty of plaudits during the tournament and Ji’s first goal in the 28th minute was a fine example of their craft.

A slick exchange involving Lee Young-Pyo, Ki Sung-Yueng, Lee Chung-Yong and Koo culminated in Ji receiving the ball in space inside the penalty area, and the 19-year-old striker rattled the ball into the bottom-left corner.

South Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong was called into action by a low strike from Azizbek Haydarov before Ji claimed his second, a magnificent header from a Hong Jeong-Ho cross that left Nesterov clutching at thin air.

The Koreans were cruising, but an untidy challenge by Hwang Jae-Won on Olim Novkarov allowed Geynrikh to pull one back from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time.

The bald striker lashed his spot-kick home at the second attempt, after a daring chipped effort had been chalked off for encroachment.

Geynrikh’s second, seven minutes into the second period, was a delightful goal, as he leapt to bring down a left-wing cross before tricking his way past Lee Jung-Soo and beating Jung at his near post.

Re-energised, Uzbekistan drove forward in search of an equaliser, but it was Korea who came closest to another goal, with Ji’s low strike bouncing back off the post.

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