Tale of two halves as S. Korea end men’s football drought vs. Iran

SEOUL-- South Korea's much-awaited men's football victory over Iran in a World Cup qualifying match on Thursday featured a tale of two very different halves.

In the first half at Seoul World Cup Stadium, South Korea looked uncharacteristically sloppy in their own zone. They did have some scoring chances, but also dodged some bullets when they turned the ball over in the defensive zone on a few occasions.

With a sellout crowd of 64,375 on hand, the pressure was mounting on the home team to beat Iran for the first time since January 2011. Goals seemed hard to come by, but captain Son Heung-min broke the deadlock during first-half injury time and gave South Korea a lead with a well-struck shot from just outside the box.

Momentum in sports may be an abstract concept, but not if players and coaches believe in it. South Korea came out for the second half looking like a far more determined squad, as they nearly doubled their lead in the opening moments and started taking care of the ball better in their own zone.

They were able to create some chances in the first half with some quick, short passes to avoid the pressing Iran defense. In the second half, passes had more zip to them, and it was a pretty tic-tac-toe play that resulted in Kim Young-gwon's marker in the 63rd minute. Winger Hwang Hee-chan and midfielder Lee Jae-sung did the hard work to set up the goal that rounded out the scoring.

South Korea head coach Paulo Bento said it was "a difficult game," as he and his players had anticipated, and he noticed how his team gradually improved their performance as the match progressed.

"We faced a very good team that created some problems in our buildup. In the first half, we committed some unforced errors," the coach said. "But in the second half, we improved (in) that aspect. The way we controlled the game and the way we managed the ball possession was much better in the second half. We didn't allow the opponent to go on counterattack and to use space behind our defensive line."

Scoring just before the end of the first half and taking a slim lead into the locker room was also crucial, Bento said.

"When you score first, it's always good help for the team," he said. "We were more aggressive (in the second half). Our buildup was more effective. We found the best way, offensive passing lanes. We had very good chances to score."

Source: Yonhap News Agency