SYDNEY - South Korea edged closer toward its first Asian Cup title in over half a century Monday with a comfortable 2-0 win over Iraq in their semifinal in Sydney.
Goals in each half from Lee Jeong-hyeop and Kim Young-gwon did the damage in wet and windy conditions to set up a meeting with either hosts Australia or the United Arab Emirates in Saturday’s final.
It will be South Korea’s first appearance in the final since 1988. The Taeguk Warriors are bidding for their first continental championship since 1960.
“It was crucial for us to advance to the final and we know we have not won this competition for a very long time,” said man of the match Nam Tae-hee.
“All the players were together, firm, united and I think this gave us a good result in the end.”
Australia, which South Korea edged 1-0 in the group phase, and the U.A.E., which stunned holders Japan 5-4 in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals, play in the second semifinal in Newcastle on Tuesday.
“When we came here to Australia, we left South Korea as the third-highest Asian team in the (world) rankings and what I said before we left is that we want come back with a better result, and the better result is done today,” said South Korea coach Uli Stielike.
“Everything that comes now we cannot speak about pressure. Everything that comes now will be a bonus. We will try to win the cup, there is no doubt about that, but the team have done what they had to do. They have taken one big step forward.”
South Korea controlled most of the early possession and Son Heung-min forced a fantastic save from Jalal Hassan before Stielike’s men took the lead on 20 minutes.
Kim Jin-su delivered an inch-perfect free kick into the box and Lee rose above his marker to head in from close range for his second goal of the tournament.
Iraq was not much of a threat going forward, and five minutes into the second half the South Koreans doubled their lead, Lee chesting down for Kim Young-gwon to drive home from the edge of the area.
Iraq pushed hard in the second half, but South Korea never really looked like it would allow its defense to be breached for the first time in this tournament.
“We knew this was going to be a difficult match — the loser leaves and the winner goes to the final,” shrugged Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil.
“We had two mistakes, which they used and scored through, but the Korean team have a lot of players that play outside Korea and in quality leagues. But I want to thank my players for producing a quality match and hopefully we can do something in the coming match (for third place).”