The Republic of Korea outclassed a lethargic Greek side en route to a 2-0 victory in Port Elizabeth. In truth, the scoreline could have been even more one-sided as Rehhagel’s much vaunted defensive tactics were undone by a tidy and ambitious Korean effort.
Any fears of a 0-0 stalemate were banished after seven minutes when uncharacteristically poor defending from Greece allowed central-defender Lee Jung Soo to pounce at the back post. A low free-kick was dispatched into the Greek penalty six-yard box where at least one of five Hellenic defenders should have dealt with the cross. The semi-empty stadium did little to contain the celebrations of the famously vociferous South Korean fans.
Greece had failed to score in any of their previous World Cup games, all at USA 1994, and relied heavily on diagonal passes into the Korean half. South Korea, as one of the shorter teams in the 2010 World Cup, were obvious targets for lofty passes but their defenders showed impressive atheleticism and agility and actually had the better of Greek attackers Gekas and Katsouranis in the air.
South Korea were busy and tidy on the ball and showed composed containment when their opponents were on the attack.
Park Chu Young was set through on goal in the 27th minute after a lovely through-pass around from captain Park Ji Sung. A last ditch challenge from Papadopoulos and a fortuitous save off the boot of the Greek goalkeeper Tzorvas were all that prevented South Korea from taking a deserved two goal advantage.
Any incursions into the Korean half were dealt with effectively by an underrated Republic of Korea defence. They constantly sought to catch a sluggish Greece on the counterattack as their wingbacks Lee and Cha broke free of their Grecian counterparts.
Win will be valuable in the quest to at least finish as runners-up to Argentina. The three teams are quite evenly matched and all capable of taking points from each other and potentially at least one of them may manage at least a draw against Maradona’s side.
As the teams emerged for the second-half, South Korea engaged in another huddle to recfocus on a task not yet completed.
They once again started brightly and scored the second goal that their performance deserved in the seventh minute of the second half. Vyntra needlessly gave the ball away to Park Ji Sung who strode past two challenges into the penalty area and slotted beautifully past the keeper. When Park Ji Sung plays as well as he does here it is easy to see why he is so favoured at Manchester United. He has now scored in three consecutive World Cup Finals, a wonderful achievement for South Korea’s favourite son.
There was a palpable sense of frustration from the Greek players on the pitch. Torosidis encapsulated this with a rash challenge from behind earning himself a yellow card in the process.
Greece’s late chances were limited to crosses which posed little trouble for the Koreans. In fact it was not until the 80th minute that Jeung was called into action, showing good reflexes to deny Gekas who had very little opportunity to show the prowess in front of goal that allowed him to score ten goals in qualifying.
Even as South Korea eased off in the latter stages they still looked a far superior side both offensively and defensively. Throughout the game they looked lively in possession and could prove to be a more difficult obstacle than originally thought for Diego Maradona’s Argentina. The passion of 2002 seems very much alive in this squad, who seem more than eager to atone for a less than impressive showing in 2006.
As the final whistle was blown by New Zealander Michael Hester, the 11 Koreans on the field were joined by the substitutes who looked overjoyed at an opening victory. If they produce more performances like this then they may have further opportunity to celebrate as the tournament progresses.