Victorious Koreans in World Cup class of their own
SOUTH Korea consolidated their place at the top of the Asia Group D qualifying pool for the 1994 World Cup with a commanding 2-0 victory over Lebanon in the Olympic Stadium in Seoul last night.
Having beaten Hongkong 4-1 on the opening day of the second phase of matches, the Koreans followed up with another action-packed display in front of a 30,000 crowd to record their fifth victory in six qualifying matches.
They now have 11 points from six games, four clear of second-placed Bahrain, who beat India 3-0 in the other match last night.
Hongkong lie third with five points from five outings and have a game in hand on the two sides above them. The territory's next match is against Lebanon tomorrow.
Lebanon are fourth with four points from six matches, three points clear of bottom-placed India, who have picked up just one point from five games.
The Koreans are clearly in a different class to their group rivals and must be one of the favourites to claim one of the two qualifying spots from Asia for next year's finals in the United States.
Strong and composed at the back, they have conceded only one goal in their six games so far. Their midfielders are all capable of making the play from deep positions and their forwards combine pace and movement off the ball to create a string of chances.
The biggest worry for the coach, Kim Ho, must be the low ratio of goals scored to chances made, even though they are averaging more than two a game in this qualifying group.
Lebanon, taller and stronger than the Hongkong team but lacking in speed and technique, proved hard to break down for the Koreans.
But when central defender Park Jung-bae rose to meet a left-wing corner in the 33rd minute, striker Ha Seok-ju pounced to nod the ball in from six yards. Ha, who plays for the Daewoo Royals in Korea, was also on target against Hongkong on Saturday.
The win was sealed 11 minutes into the second half when Hwangbo Kwan, who scored Korea's only goal in Italia '90 World Cup action, struck from 10 yards out when the ball ran loose following more desperate defence from the Lebanese.
Hwangbo, who plays for the Yukong Elephants in the Korean league, did not feature in Saturday's match against Hongkong because he was recovering from an ankle injury.
In the earlier match, Bahrain, who led 1-0 at half-time through a 20th-minute goal by Mubarak Khamis Murarak, completely dominated the Indians.
Murarak scored again in the 53rd minute and Khkamis Eid Thani made it three a minute later.
The Hongkong squad watched the Korea-Lebanon game and coach Chan Hung-ping will announce the side to take on Lebanon after today's training session.
He is concerned over the right-back slot, where Lo Kai-wah and his likely replacement, Yau Kin-wai, are both suffering with hamstring problems.
Midfielder Chan Chi-kwong is definitely out with a head injury, but striker Au Wai-lun, the only player to score against Korea in the group, may be available following an ankle injury.
The earlier match between Lebanon and Hongkong - during the first phase of games in Beirut last month - ended in a 2-2 draw with Hongkong reduced to 10 men following the sending-off of Eastern player Lo for fighting.