South Korea’s forward Hwang Ui-jo (centre) celebrates after scoring the only goal against Philippines during the Asian Cup Group C match at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Monday. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: South Korea got their campaign off to a winning start with a hard-fought 1-0 win over a gutsy Philippines in their Group C opener of the 2019 Asian Cup at Al Nasr Club’s Maktoum Stadium on Monday.

After being frustrated by a resolute Azkals’ defence for a major part of the match, the former two-time champions found solace through a Hwang Uijo goal on the 67th minute and take home full points.

The possession statistics said it all. South Korea enjoyed 70 per cent, but the Azkals more than redeemed themselves of the underdogs’ tag with a gritty display that saw the team battle for each and every ball.

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The possession statistics said it all. South Korea enjoyed 70 per cent, but the Azkals more than redeemed themselves of the underdogs’ tag with a gritty display that saw the team battle for each and every ball.

This was the first time after 39 years that these two teams faced each other.

Improved form

In their last meeting in 1980, Korea Republic had thrashed the Philippines 8-0 to maintain their perfect record of seven wins in as many games while scoring 35 goals and conceding none.

History, however, counted for nothing this evening that saw the Filipinos give a fine account of themselves till Hwang came up with the match-winner.

Korea’s head coach Paulo Bento was rightfully a relieved man after the three points before their next encounter against Kyrgyzstan on Friday.

“This was a game that we expected where we tried to dominate and control. But the other team was waiting in the midfield and they used their rush tactics well," Bento admitted.

Defence

"We had some difficulties to create the space and score goals. After the goal we had more space and more chances to score as well. I think this was a fair result for us and an important three points for us."

The Koreans should have been clear by three goals within the opening 10 minutes, but the defence line marshalled by Alvaro Silva and Luke Woodland stood their ground denying the Taeguk Warriors a clean look at goal.

First Lee Yong’s cross deflected off Daisuke Sato straight into goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard’s hands in the fifth minute and then two minutes later, Jung Wooyoung mistimed a late lunge at a free kick taken by Lee Jaesung.

The Azkals relied on the quick counter to try and open out an under-worked Korean defence with Javier Patino the standout worker always willing to make a run on the opponents’ goal.

The Filipinos came up with a couple of eye-catching moves in the 22nd and 24th minutes, but on both occasions the lanky Patino found a final touch missing.

Azkals head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was upbeat despite the loss.

Upbeat

“They [Korea] played well and they won. They can’t complain too much. I am proud of the team that was out there on the field. We created some chances and with a little bit of luck, we could have had a different result. We showed everyone today that this country can play football. We didn’t expect to create 20 chances against Korea,” the 70-year-old said.

Starting without either of the two Younghusbands — James and Phil — Eriksson insisted that he was justified with his choice of players.

“We couldn’t afford to start with an attacking sort of line-up as a team like Korea would have killed us on the counters. The starting eleven were the best ones on the field for this match. The mood is good as the players know that they did a good job. Now, it is all about recovery for our next game,” the Swede added.

Next game: January 11

Philippines now travel to Abu Dhabi to play China on January 11 while South Korea’s next match will be against Kyrgyzstan in Al Ain the same day.

Match schedules for Asian Cup group stages Image Credit: Gulf News