Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung scored a second-half equalizer to give South Korea a 1-1 draw against Iran here Wednesday and close out their World Cup qualifying without a loss.
The goal from team captain Park means Asian Group 2 winners South Korea end their qualifying campaign with four wins and four draws from their eight games, along with a coveted place at the table in South Africa next year.
Iran finish with 11 points and their hopes for advancing hinged on the result of the Saudi Arabia-North Korea match, which was to begin later Wednesday in Riyadh.
Iranian coach Afshin Ghotbi said he was “disappointed” with the result.
“We played too conservatively after scoring the first goal,” he said. “Our defence sat back and allowed South Korea to dominate the match.”
The scoring opened early in the second half when Mohammad Nosrati lofted in a cross that was met by a pack of Iranian and South Korean players in the goal mouth.
South Korean keeper Lee Woon-Jae dived to deflect the ball, which replays appeared to show bounced off the leg of the charging Masoud Shojaei in the 51st minute.
Seven minutes later, Lee was tested again when he jumped to punch out a free kick by Mehdi Mahdavikia over a crowd of Iranian players.
South Korea’s Park Chu-Young had two close calls as the hosts tried to level the score.
In the 63rd minute, the AS Monaco forward dummied two defenders deep in the box to launch a left-foot shot, but Iranian keeper Mehdi Rahmati saved it with his left leg from point-blank range.
Two minutes later, Park banged a free kick off the left post with the frozen Rahmati helplessly looking on.
Salvation came for the South Koreans in the 80th minute, when Park Ji-Sung drove hard down the left wing.
After a nifty back and forth with Lee Keun-Ho deep in the box, Park’s shot sailed past defenders and the diving Rahmati.
A reinvigorated South Korea, already assured of first place in their group before the match, very nearly bagged a winner when Wigan’s Cho Won-Hee had an open net to himself after some fine footwork in the box but lost control of the ball.
South Korean coach Huh Jung-Moo said he was “delighted” with the undefeated record in the final qualification round, but added that there was work to be done.
“We gave up the opening goal on a silly mistake but the players never gave up,” Huh said.
“For the World Cup tournament, we have to grow stronger, both mentally and physically.”
Park Ji-Sung also called for more mental toughness.
“It would have been nicer to close out the qualification with a win,” he said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. For us to draw Iran at home, that means we need to get better.”
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