Hwang Ui-jo’s second goal in as many meetings with Australia gave South Korea a late 1-0 win in a largely drama-free friendly in Busan on Friday.
The Gamba Osaka striker scored nine minutes after stepping off the bench in the second half to condemn an experimental Socceroos side to defeat.
Graham Arnold’s new-look team otherwise performed well in the absence of Premier League pair Aaron Mooy and Mat Ryan, having been the better side in the first half.
Hwang’s goal added to the one he converted when these teams met in a 1-1 draw in Brisbane in November and secured boss Paulo Bento a third successive victory since a disappointing Asian Cup.
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Drafted into the squad as a late replacement for the injured Chris Ikonomidis, Mitchell Duke almost gave Australia an 18th-minute lead when he directed a glancing header onto the post from Brandon O’Neill’s corner.
Awer Mabil earlier tested Kim Seung-gyu with a well-judged volley and South Korea continued to do the bulk of the defending during the first half.
The referee waved away half-hearted appeals for a South Korea penalty soon after the interval before brandishing the first yellow card of the game for Mustafa Amini’s crude challenge on Son Heung-min, who played the entire match less than a week on from the Champions League final.
Tottenham star Son generally flittered around the fringes of the contest and it was left to Hwang to be the hero, the 26-year-old turning home at close range after Hong Chul’s cross deflected off Brandon Borrello.
The latter was one of multiple Australians to make their international debut and another, goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, did well to prevent Son from adding a second late in proceedings.
What does it mean? Little to separate two of Asia’s top teams
South Korea and Australia both begin the long road to the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
Should their paths cross at any stage, recent evidence indicates they will only be split by minor margins.
Australia’s midfield men make case for more opportunities
There was a danger for a Socceroos midfield of Amini, O’Neill and James Jeggo to be overrun away from home but, despite having a handful of caps between them, the trio acquitted themselves well, and are sure to stay in Arnold’s plans.
Sydney FC’s O’Neill was perhaps the pick of the bunch on debut, reading the game well and constantly harassing opponents.
Underwhelming outing for attacking talent
Tipped to have a bright future in Europe, athletic forward Hang Hee-chan – who spent the past season on loan at Hamburg – will not have anything to add to his highlight reel after this match.
He struggled to have any influence in more than an hour on the pitch, tallying 15 touches in that time – the fewest of South Korea’s starters.
Both nations will have their eyes on next month’s draw for the second round of World Cup qualifying in Asia, which is scheduled to commence in September.
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