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Football – Asian Cup: Korea beat Iraq to reach first final since 1988

Lee-Jeong-hyeop, 23, leapt highest to head in the 20th-minute opener from Kim Jin-su’s free-kick. Photos: AFCAsianCup.com.

Lee-Jeong-hyeop, 23, leapt highest to head in the 20th-minute opener from Kim Jin-su’s free-kick. Photos: AFCAsianCup.com.

January 26, 2015: Korea Republic will play in the final of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 1988 after Uli Stielike’s side handed 2007 champions Iraq a 2-0 defeat to book their place in the competition’s final at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

 

The two-time champions – who have not won the continental title since 1960 – will meet either hosts Australia or 2013 Gulf Cup champions UAE on Saturday after goals from tall striker Lee Jeong-hyeop and centre-back Kim Young-gwon secured an ultimately comfortable win.

 

Korea came into the tournament as Asia’s third-ranked team and, with a place secured in the final, Stielike believes his team can play with no pressure in the final having already ensured they will finish in the tournament’s top two.

 

“When we came here to Australia, we left Korea in third position in the AFC ranking,” said Stielike. “I said before we left that we want to come back with a better result and the better result has come today, so anything now is extra.

 

“We cannot speak any more about pressure. We will try to get this Cup, no doubt about it, but the team did what they have to do. They go one big step forward.”

 

Korea Republic players celebrate Lee’s opener in a 2-0 victory over Iraq.

Korea Republic players celebrate Lee’s opener in their 2-0 victory over Iraq in Sydney.

Korea last played in the Asian Cup final in Qatar in 1988, when they lost on penalties to Saudi Arabia, and in Sydney they avenged a semi-final defeat at the hands of Iraq when Younus Mahmood and his teammates went on to win the Asian Cup in 2007.

 

Stielike made two changes to his starting line-up, bringing in Han Kyo-won for former AFC Player of the Year Lee Keun-ho, as veteran right back Cha Du-ri replaced Kim Chang-soo. For Iraq, Osamah Shakir was called up for the suspended Yaser Kasim and Amjed Kalaf took the place of Columbus Crew midfielder Justin Meram.

 

Korea wasted little time taking the initiative, with Han narrowly missing with a diving header from midfielder Ki Sung-yueng’s in-swinging free kick from the left, while Nam Tae-hee tried his luck from distance, only to send the ball over the bar.

 

Son Heung-min’s 19th-minute surge through the Iraqi midfield ended with the Bayer Leverkusen striker seeing his drive from distance tipped over the bar by Jalal Hassan and in the 20th minute Lee claimed his second goal of the tournament.

 

The 23-year-old Sangju Sangmu forward rose highest to reach Kim Jin-su’s in-swinging left-foot free kick from close to the right touchline, the downward header sending the Korean fans among the 36,053 crowd into raptures.

 

Korea had been dominant in the first half but, with six minutes remaining in the half, Iraq finally had a sight of goal. Ahmed Yaseen sent his long-range attempt well over the bar while, two minutes ahead of the break, Kalaf forced Kim Jin-hyeon to drop to his right to push a low shot away for a corner.

 

Five minutes after the restart, Korea all but put the game to bed. Lee was involved again, this time chesting the ball down on the edge of the area into the path of defender Kim Young-gwon and the Guangzhou Evergrande man’s left-foot bouncing shot was deflected past Hassan and into the corner of the goal.

 

Ki and Son both tried their luck unsuccessfully from long range before an increasingly desperate Iraq started pumping the ball long towards captain Mahmood, but the veteran could not find a way past a Korean defence that has yet to concede a goal at the Asian Cup.

 

Source: WSG / AFC Asian Cup (www.afcasiancup.com); Editing by SportAsia

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