Coach : Afshin Ghotbi
SEOUL - Park Ji-sung struck nine minutes from time as Korea Republic maintained their unbeaten in World Cup qualifying Group B with a 1-1 draw against Iran on Wednesday.
The Iranians needed all three points to guarantee at least third place and a play-off spot and looked to be on their way when Moasoud Shojaei broke the deadlock after 50 minutes.
But Park produced a consummate finish following a smart interchange with Kim Jung-woo to ensure the South Koreans, who had already secured a place in South Africa, ended the final phase of qualifying without having lost a game.
Park Chu-young saw a long-range shot easily held by Iran keeper Mehdi Rahmati after 12 minutes and Javed Nekonam's shot was spilled by Lee won-jae in the 25th minute but a first-half largely bereft of chances came to life as the interval approached.
Nekonam curled a free-kick just wide of the post in the 41st minute before Masoud Shojaei took advantage of some slack play by the Korean backline to bundle his way through but his shot was well saved by Lee Won-jae diving full length to his left.
Iran then took the lead in somewhat fortuitous circumstances five minutes after the break
Mohammad Nosrati swung in a dangerous cross from the left flank that just evaded a stretching Shojaei but Lee Won-jae punched the ball against the midfielder and it bounced into an empty net.
Shojaei could not apply a decisive touch after a free-kick instigated a scramble in the Korean box just after the hour mark and seconds later, Korea almost equalised as a dinked ball set Park Chu-young free.
The Monaco striker skilfully turned inside two successive defenders but keeper Rahmati denied him well with his legs.
Korea were pouring forward and Park was desperately unlucky to see an exquisite free-kick come back off the inside of the post in the 65th minute with Rahmati rooted to his line after Nekonam had brought down Lee Keun-ho.
But Rahmati did well to parry Lee Chung-yong's powerful follow-up.
The hosts' pressure finally paid off in the 81st minute, however, as Park Ji-sung exchanged a sharp one two with Kim Jung-woo and buried a fine low left-foot shot inside Rahmati's near post.
Korea almost won it in the dying moments when Kim Jung-woo's clever dummy allowed substitute Cho Won-hee to burst into the box and he rounded Rahmati but lost control of the ball under his feet and saw it roll it wide.
SEOUL - Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi admitted his side's lack of killer instinct cost them dearly following the 1-1 draw with Korea Republic at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Needing victory over the Group B winners to clinch at least third place and a play-off berth, Iran fortuitously took the lead after 50 minutes when Mohammad Nosrati's cross was punched against Moasoud Shojaei by keeper Lee Won-jae and ricocheted into the empty net.
Shojaei could then have doubled their lead just after the hour mark before Korea began to turn the screw and Park Ji-sung struck a crucial equaliser with nine minutes to go.
“We came here to get the three points. We played too conservatively after the first goal. In particular, the defensive line played too deep and Korea took advantage of it,” Ghotbi said.
“We did have a chance to make 2-0 but could not take it. In the end, South Korea scored instead.
“I needed a player who can cover the space more, that was why I replaced Ali Karimi in the second-half. I also had to use a 4-5-1 formation rather than 4-3-3 in the second-half.”
The former South Korea assistant coach also had words of advice for his old team ahead of their trip to South Africa next summer.
“Central midfielders and central defenders need to gain more international experience. Both Iran and Korea needed too many chances to score only one goal. If they can improve this, it will be better,” he added.
Korea coach Huh Jung-moo, however, stressed that his side need to be able to beat the European teams if they are to enjoy a successful World Cup next summer.
“I cannot reveal the exact plan yet but it is obvious that we will be in trouble if we don’t overcome European countries,” he said.
“We need more technique, stamina and fighting spirit to defeat European teams. I will discuss the future plan with Korean football association as well as the K-League association.
“As the World Cup will be played in South Africa, I think it would be better to train the team there. I am not sure about the schedule yet but I will make a decision after having discussions with K-League teams.
Park reportedly announced he would retire from international football after the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar but Huh believes his talismanic midfielder can play on until the 2014 World Cup.
“I saw what Park Ji-sung said in the paper,” he added.
“As a player you can say that but with Park’s attitude and stamina, I believe he could still play in Brazil.”