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South Korea reach Asian Cup final with victory over Iraq

By Agency
27th-Jan-2015       
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Korea Republic are now just 90 minutes away from breaking their 55-year Asian Cup drought with their semi-final win eliminating a spirited but ultimately outclassed Iraq.
Goals from Lee Jeong-hyeop and Kim Young-gwon early in each half in Sydney quelled any Iraqi hopes of reprising their storied Asian Cup victory of 2007.
The pair were meeting for the first time since the semi-final of that same tournament when the Pim Verbeek-coached Koreans were edged on penalties by Iraq.
The odds heading into this encounter were in favour of the better-credentialed Koreans who had an extra day's rest, while Iraq were faced with the challenge of putting the mental and physical strain of their two-hour epic against oldest foes Iran behind them.
So too, Korea had not lost in the knockout stage - other than on penalties - since 2004. Not that Korea could look too much to history for inspiration. They have not been crowned Asia's best since 1960, this despite a record eight-successive World Cup qualifications.
Iraq were missing Yaser Kasim due to suspension, that blow coming after the Swindon Town team-mate of Socceroo Massimo Luongo had proved himself an important midfield cog both in defence and going forward for Iraq. In attack, Younus Mahmoud was offered only modest support at times, but the match-winner from that unlikely win in Jakarta eight years ago was animated even by his standards, and looked primed to continue his role as team talisman.
That this was a clash of cultures was clear, but so too was there a distinct clash of style. Iraq's nerve-shredding win over Iran in the quarter-final was all heart and instinctive reaction. Korea, in contrast, have arguably proven themselves the most disciplined side in the tournament under the firm hand of German coach Uli Stielike. Indeed, the chunkily monikered Taeguk Warriors entered the match as the only team yet to concede a goal.
Within seconds an early chance fell Korea's way as Han Kyo-won narrowly failed to get a head on a deep cross, raising the decibel levels amid some lingering pre-match rain. Not that the hefty and excitable contingent of Korean and Iranian fans needed any encouragement. Any relatively innocuous movement over halfway was invariably met with wild excitement from the 36,053 crowd, the largest for a match not involving Australia at the tournament.
An early caution for Korea captain Ki Sung-yueng was fully deserved and evidence that referee Ryuji Sato of Japan was not going to entertain extra latitude for the occasion - an accusation levelled at some referees last year at Brazil 2014 during the business end of the tournament.
Both teams seemed keen to make an early impression, but it was Korea who secured the all-important opening goal. Forward Son Heung-min, scorer of both goals in the quarter-final win over Uzbekistan, was given far too much time to line up a shot as he bore down on the Iraq penalty area, but his fierce effort was adroitly palmed over the crossbar by goalkeeper Jalal Hassan.

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