South Korea edge vital win over Uzbekistan
South Korea defender Kim Young-Gwon (L) celebrates with teammate Kim Shin-Wook after Uzbekistan defender Shorakhmedov Akmal scored an own goal during their World Cup Asian qualifier in Seoul on June 11, 2013. South Korea won the match 1-0 for a vital win which could be enough to put them through to their eighth successive World Cup next year.
Defender Akmal Shorakhmedov was the fall guy when he headed Kim Young-Gwon's vicious cross into his own net just before half-time, but South Korea showed enough attacking endeavour to deserve their win at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
The Taeguk Warriors, World Cup semi-finalists in 2002, open up a three-point lead over Uzbekistan at the top of a tight Group A and will go through if bottom side Lebanon beat third-placed Iran later.
"I felt this match would come down to a single goal," said South Korea's coach Choi Kang-Hee. "We were able to win because our players never lost their concentration."
Only the top two teams in Asia's two final qualifying groups win an automatic spot, with the third-placed countries entering a play-off. Group B winners Japan are the only team to book their ticket to Brazil so far.
After a cagey opening, Anzur Ismailov's long shot forced a save from South Korea's Jung Sung-Ryong, and reigning Asian player of the Lee Keun-Ho was guilty of a terrible miss when he sliced an easy shot wide from close range.
Uzbekistan's Ulugbek Bakaev drew Korean 'keeper Jung into action again with a shot but he also passed up a golden chance when he met Server Djeparov's cross unmarked at the far post, but planted his header high and wide.
After 41 minutes, imposing Korean striker Kim Shin-Wook's knock-down fell to Lee Myoung-Ju, but Uzbek custodian Ignatiy Nesterov dived low at his feet to deny the debutant midfielder.
However, the Korean pressure told just a minute later when Kim Young-Gwon's arcing cross from deep on the right fell to the unfortunate Shorakhmedov, who could only direct it into his own net.
After the break, Timur Kapadze fired over in a strong spell for the visitors but South Korea gradually regained control and had the best chances of the second half.
Hamburger SV striker Son Heung-Min beat two defenders with a slalom run into the box but saw his shot deflected, and from the ensuing corner Kwak Tae-Hwi's strong header brought a sharp save from Nesterov.
Kim Shin-Wook's header was also saved while at the other end the influential Djeparov, a two-time Asian player of the year, came close to levelling it with a run and shot which arrowed wide.
South Korea will now await the result of Lebanon's game later against Iran, who have contested three World Cups and will travel to Ulsan for their final qualifier next week.
Uzbekistan, still capable of making history as the first Central Asian country to reach the World Cup, are at home to Qatar in their last game next Tuesday.
"We've lost nothing. There's still an opportunity for us," Uzbek coach Mirjalol Kasimov said. "I think we can beat Qatar and still reach the World Cup finals.
"I hope South Korea play a good match against Iran so that both of us can advance to the World Cup."
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