Jeong-Hyeop Lee's header from a free kick midway through the first half gave the Koreans the lead before he helped double the lead in the second half. He headed down for Young-Gwon Kim to fire home on the half volley.
The preparation was hardly ideal for Iraq coming into this game. Immediately after their stunning penalties victory over rivals Iran, the Iranian FA lodged a complaint saying that Radhi Shenaishil’s side should be banned from the tournament for fielding ineligible player. The player in question was Alaa Abdul Zahra who whilst playing Iranian club side Tractor Sazi tested positive for methylhexanamine. This meant right up until the last minute Iraq didn’t know if they would be allowed to play in today’s game.
However, at around 7:30pm last night the claim was dismissed and the Iraqis could finally get ready. After their defeat the Iranians had actually cancelled their flights in case their appeal was accepted and they took Iraq’s place in the semi-final. Iran coach Carlos Queiroz described it as “a very bizarre and unique situation”.
South Korea’s preparation had been much more relaxed after their extra-time victory against Uzbekistan. They had yet to concede a goal and had won all four games leading up to today’s semi-final. Uli Stielike’s side made two changes from the Uzbekistan game with Chang-Soo Kim and Keun-Ho Lee dropped to the bench in favour of Gyo-Won Han and Du-Ri Cha. Shenaishil also made two changes with Amjad Kalaf and Osamah Rashid coming in for Yaser Kasim and Justin Meram.
Early on in the game the Taeguk Warriors had control but neither side was able to create an outstanding chance to take the lead. 18 minutes in South Korea had their first chance to take the lead courtesy of their star man, Heung-Min Son. He had the ball off to the left hand side before cutting inside onto his right and firing towards goal, however, it was straight at Jalal Hassan who pushed it over. Only two minutes later they took the lead from a free kick
Hoffenheim’s Jin-Su Kim took the free kick from the right hand side and as it swung in, Jeong-Hyeop Lee rose above everyone else to head in at the back post. Son then had a similar chance to his first to double their lead but again it was straight at Hassan. The Koreans then earned themselves another free kick in a similar position to the one that lead to the goal. However, this time Jin-Su Kim’s delivery wasn’t as good and Hassan came out to gather.
After that chance Iraq started to fight back with Amjed Kalaf and Zahra leading the charge for an equaliser. The first chance came from Waleed Salim corner that Zahra headed straight at the keeper. Kalaf then had an effort from the edge of the box that was pushed wide by keeper Jin-Hyeon Kim. Zahra had the final chance of the half and as he had the ball inside the box but rushed his shot sending it well wide.
At half time Kyo-Won Han came off for Keun-Ho Lee. It didn’t take long for South Korea to double their lead with the goal coming from an unexpected source. Jeong-Hyeop Lee headed the ball down just outside the box for centre-back Young-Gwon Kim who fired into the bottom on the half volley. This really put the Iraqis under pressure and afterwards they increased the frequency of their attacks. They were nearly caught out by a Korean counter-attack but Son’s first time shot was well saved by the keeper.
The Lions of Mesopotamia were still struggling to break down a Korean defence that had yet to concede a goal for the duration of the tournament. Dhurgham Ismail had a shot blocked inside the area before Shenaishil decided it was time for some changes. Mahdi Kamil and Ali Adnan replaced Rashid and Ahmed Yasin respectively however this made little difference in terms of the creation of chances.
The Koreans were immense in their staunch defence and only allowed one decent attempt on goal from Kalaf. The winger probably took one touch too many as he sped down the right hand side and into the box before firing over from a tight angle.
All images except Zahra are thanks to www.afcasiancup.com