I thought the whole series of articles would feature a lot about stressful, awkward journeys, and encounters with needless levels of officialdom as I criss-cross the region entering and leaving different countries on an almost daily basis but (so far, and touch wood), it just has not happened like that. Both Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok have built brand new airports since my last trip to the region, and the operation of these makes flying an easy, low stress operation. The queues are not too long, (although sometimes, being in a queue is an invite for people to stand in front of you the famous South East Asia politeness does not always last in a queue), and the officialdom is efficient, rather than petty. There is a lot that European and particularly British operations could learn by studying the airports here.
The Bukit Jalil stadium, just south of Kuala Lumpur appears to be massive. With three tiers of seats all around the ground, except a small gap just behind the goals where the space is given to scoreboards, and only the top two tiers come to a sudden end. I am on the main side, in the lower section, and it feels that my position is low it certainly is compared to upper tier positions I have had at the other grounds. Behind me are various broadcasters boxes (with a VIP section centre), but not a great deal of space for executive boxes certainly not in comparison with modern grounds in Europe. To fit these in, the rake on the seats in the stand is less than it is behind the goal or opposite. I would therefore have thought the second tier provides the best views, but the bulk of the support is in the lower tier, and most of the seats in the sections immediately opposite me are filled. Above the stands is a roof made of the same canvas material as has proved popular with recent football stadiums in Germany, especially those built or improved prior to the World Cup. This type of lightweight material needs only a relatively small lattice of steel beams and cables to keep it in place and under tension. The reds of Korea outnumber the whites of Iran, but both teams have a more than reasonable amount of support.
The game started a fast pace, with both teams looking for an opening, and neither wishing to rely entirely on defensive postures. The Korean formation is slightly more cautious, as they have opted for 4-2-3-1 against their opponents in 3-5-2. Both teams are trying to build their moves quickly, the Iranians using more of the wing, and attempting to cross the ball early for their forwards to run onto. The Koreans trying a little bit more guile, with their players cutting in and trying to either beat their opponent or to be fouled in the attempt. It has been a very wet day, and the playing surface is wet and greasy and a little bit on the soft side, which means that the goalkeepers need to be wary of longer shots, but neither made a mistake in the first half. The best chance of the period came four minutes before the close, when more intricate passing fed the ball to Karimi inside the penalty box, but Lee Woon Jae in the Korean goal was quickly off his line to block the danger. A good shot by Mahdavika ended the half in which both sides have played some good football, but neither is yet showing a sign of being able to apply the killer touch.
The second half started a little slowly, as a there were a couple of injury breaks. Apart from a change in the Koreans main forward, it was the same story as the first half. Both sides eager to attack, but no clear sign as to where the killer touch is going to come from. The Koreans won a corner in the 60th minute with their most likely move so far. Mohamed Nosrati failed to deal with a cross from Lee Chun Soo, and the ball found its way to Yeom Ki Hun. The shot from 18 yards went through the crowd of players and forced a save from Hassan Rodbarian, the Iranian goalkeeper. While one felt that a dead ball situation may break the deadlock, both sides were being eager to avoid being drawn into a foul in a dangerous situation, and when a kick was awarded, such as for an unlucky handball by Javad Nekonam in the 64th minute, the resultant kick (in this case from Lee Chun Soo for Korea) was not accurate enough to trouble the goalkeeper. A few minutes later, a wide ball to Rasoul Khatibi found the striker in space, and for once onside. The Korean goalkeeper rashly ran all the way out to meet him, and he jumped over the challenge, some 30 yards out, but before he could turn goalwards, a tackle by Oh Beom Seok flattened him. The Korean was lucky to see only a yellow card, while the resultant free kick sailed wide of the far post. The Koreans have now started a tendency to follow a few good passes with a long ball or high cross I cannot think why this should be in their mindset, as it is a singularly unproductive tactic, with the balls rarely in the right place, and the forward incapable of dealing with those that are.
There is a good deal of background noise, continual drumming and chanting from fans on either side. This then rises into a crescendo whenever a forward or winger makes a run through, only to quieten again at the inevitable misplaced pass, or blocked cross. The second half drew to its conclusion with Korea making some of their best play, but becoming more open to the break, with Iranian substitute Gholam Enayati just failing to reach a cross in the last minute. Both sides, though were sensing that extra time would almost be inevitable. A foul by Khatibi on Choi Sung Kuk gives Korea a last chance, but Sung Kuks free kick is high and easily defended.
The first period of extra time was similar to the first 90 minutes, although the Koreans were now seeing more of the ball, and keeping it in their opponents half for longer. Kang Min Soon even won a header in the box, from a corner delivered by Choi Sung Kuk, although the result was the ball flashing across the face of the goal before running off for a goal kick. Despite this, the best chance of the period was the last one and the only real one for Iran, when Karimi set up Nekanam and his shot went just wide, with the Korean keeper stranded.
Korea brought on their last subsitute, Kim Do Heon at the break in extra time, but this did not revitalise there play, and for the first time in the game we saw one of the sides dwelling on holding possession. It appeared that Korea were more comfortable with the idea of the game going to penalties. With enough men back to make sure Iran did not get a winner, penalties is what we ended up with. Iran accepted the fact in the last minute when they changed their goalkeeper before the shoot out
First blood in the shoot out went to Korea, when the Iranians second penalty by Mahdavikia was saved, but then the substitute keeper (Vahid Talebloo) got a leg to Kim Do Heons shot on the next penalty and it was level again. It was another outstrecthed leg that saved the fourth Iranian penalty, as Rasoil Khatibi failed to get the ball past Lee Woon Jae, and this was decisive, as Kim Jung Woo scored Koreas fifth penalty to wrap up the match by 4-2.
It is curious that a game with so much running, passing and opportunity should end up with a scoreless 90 minutes. Partly this is due to strong defending, but it also came from an incapability to change tactics. Iran continued to push the same ball forward, no matter how often their forwards were offside. Korea continued to cross the ball high, no matter that only Iranian defenders were on the receiving end. South Korea stay in Kuala Lumpur to play Iraq in the semi-final.