South Korea kicked off their bid for a first Asian Cup title in 55 years with a 1-0 win over Oman in their Group A opener yesterday, but the victory came at a cost with injuries to key players.
Cho Young-cheol scored his first goal for his nation in first-half stoppage time as Ki Seung-yeung began his reign as skipper with a win, but fullback Kim Chang-soo limped off in the first half and attacker Lee Chung-yong in the second to mar the victory.
Oman came close to snatching a point in second-half stoppage time, but goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon brilliantly turned Imad al-Hosni’s close range header from a corner on to the bar as South Korea survived.
The Koreans went second in the table and are set to next play on Tuesday at the same venue against Kuwait, who were humbled 4-1 by hosts Australia in the tournament opener in Melbourne on Friday.
The Koreans were heavily tipped to advance and their lively German-based duo of Son Heung-min and Koo Ja-cheol proved too troubling for the Oman, who only ever had ambitions of a point from the tough opening task.
They looked liked escaping to halftime with their defensive line in tact, but a late step up in intensity at the end of the opening 45 minutes led to Cho breaking the deadlock.
Koo had a hand in the first goal, firing a low drive that al-Habsi could only parry back in front of his goal, with Qatar-based Cho sliding in to put the rebound into the net in the 46th minute.
Koo’s directness was in contrast to many of his teammates in the first period, who seemed more interested in retaining possession than troubling Oman.
Midfielder Koo, top scorer in the tournament four years ago, should have added a second just before the hour mark, but he could only direct a header straight at the goalkeeper after a lengthy Korean passing move.
A hefty challenge by Ahmed Saleem al-Mukhaini in the 69th minute then robbed South Korea of one of their key playmakers, with Lee Chung-yong limping off eight minutes later to follow Kim Chang-soo to the treatment room. The fullback departed in the 18th minute.
Korea’s failure to add a second to make the game safe buoyed Oman, who pushed forward for an unlikely draw as the game closed out, with Raeed Ibrahim Saleh providing some dangerous crosses from the left.
The wingback fired a low shot just wide as the game ticked into stoppage time with substitute al-Hosni being denied with his header from the resulting corner.
In other Asian Cup matches Uzbeskistan beat North Korea 1-0, while China ran out 1-0 winners over Saudi Arabia.