European champions Spain eked out a 1-0 victory over South Korea in a World Cup warm-up match on Thursday.
The match had promised to be an exciting meeting, with Spain hoping to exorcise the ghosts of the 2002 World Cup, when they were stunned by South Korea in a controversial quarter-final in which the Spaniards had two goals disallowed, but the two sides failed to impress during much of the game, despite a late goal by Jesus Navas.
Playing before a packed house, Spain took the opportunity to give playing time to many of their injured players, while South Korea failed to convert some good chances.
South Korea coach Huh Jung-moo defended his tactics after the game.
“We tried to play very defensively, when you play against a stronger team, you should play defensively and use counterattacks,” he said. “We learned a few things. We feel we played well against Spain, we feel we did well today.”
The match started off cautiously with neither side willing to take any risks and it mostly stayed that way in the first half.
South Korea came closest to scoring first after 13 minutes when a long-range shot by midfielder Kim Jung-woo went just wide.
The South Koreans seemed in attacking mood at first, spurred on by a loud contingent of fans.
A couple of efforts by Spain, however, soon sparked faster offensive play by La Furia Roja.
A ball from Sergio Ramos was headed away after 27 minutes, and Cesc Fabregas, back from injury, hit the post with a good effort after 35 minutes.
The two coaches substituted their goalkeepers at halftime, with Spain bringing on Victor Valdes for Jose Reina, while South Korea replaced Lee Woon-jae with Jung Sung-ryong.
Further changes in the Spanish side saw Fabregas make way for Barcelona’s Xavi, playing only his second match after a long time out through injury.
In what was one of the best chances of the game, Celtic’s Ki Sung-yueng fired in a superb shot on goal after 67 minutes only for it to be blocked by a teammate, who accidentally headed the ball away.
The pace accelerated in the last 15 minutes with both sides attacking more consistently and Sevilla winger Navas finally netted after 86 minutes with a glorious 25m strike into the top-right corner.
Spain are the bookmakers’ favorites to win the World Cup in South Africa for the first time. Until now, their best result was a fourth-place finish in 1962.
Vicente del Bosque’s team plays one last friendly against Poland on Tuesday in Murcia, before flying down to South Africa, where they will face Switzerland, Honduras and Chile in Group H.
South Korea play their first group match against Euro 2004 winners Greece next Saturday.