25/07/2007

Penalties again decisive – Iraq reach the final

Neither side wanted to commit everything to the attack from the off. The South Koreans were more attack minded in the early stages, but managed only a couple of high crosses which were easily dealt with and a shot from distance that went well over. It appeared that Iraq’s main threat was coming from Taher on the left wing, but the first real chance, which did not occur until the 28th minute came from the right, with Karrar Jassim narrowly failing to connect with a cross.

The crowd appeared to be slightly less than the 8629 for the quarter final, with the South Koreans again having the majority. The locals have undoubtedly not shown up at all. A heavy rain storm in the hour before kick off left the pitch looking soft again, but despite continuous rain through the game, the only surface water is on the running track surrounding the pitch

With five minutes to go to half time, it is again the Iraqis who come close to a break through, Younis Khalef shooting just wide. The Koreans best chance of the half came from a free kick wide on the left, which Choi Sung Kuk tried to swing over, but Noor Sabri saved on the far post.

The Koreans come out for the second half looking as if they are anxious to force the issue early in the second half. This results in a string of attacks, but as in the previous game, this come to nothing so long as they insist on finishing with a high cross into the area. Iraq create nothing in the first fifteen minutes of the half, but then Karrar is knocked over by Korean substitute Kim Jung Woo, and the resultant free kick deflects in the direction of the Korean goal but too close to Lee Woon Jae to be a real danger. The play quickly switches to the other end, and the other keeper, Noor Sabri, has to be alert as for once we do not have a high ball easily picked up by the defence. Keeping the ball low, a very long free kick from Yeom Ki Hun also threatens the Iraqi goal. This time Noor Sabri can only parry, and Cho Jae Jin is dangerously close to picking it up. It seems that Korea have worked out where the danger may lie, and they even get headers onto two successive corners in the 67th minute. Chances are now being created at both ends, Mahdi Ajeel cuts in from the right wing in the 69th minute and shot narrowly wide, while Lee Chun Soo does the same with a snap overhead volley after being found on side in front of the defence. Still the game runs through to the end of normal time without a goal, despite a late free kick by Cho Jae Jin which cannons into the wall, Cho picked up the rebound, but his second shot was not good enough to beat Noor Sabri. In the 90 minutes, South Korea have made two changes, both in the midfield, while Iraq come off the field with the same 11 men that started the game

Extra time started in a similar fashion, with Noor Sabri having to be equal to a Korean shot, the first chance coming to Lee Chun Soo four minutes in. The best Iraqi chance of the period came two minutes before the break, Lee Woon Jae flapped at a high cross, leaving him helpless as a shot from close range by Taher hit the post, and then was almost deflected in by Korean defender Kim Jin Kyu. South Korea used the break to bring on Oh Jang Eun as their last substitute. Iraq waited three minutes into the final period to bring on their first, Ahmed Abbas replacing Karrar. A misplaced pass by Ahmed Abbas, robbed the Iraqis of a chance immediately after the change, while two minutes later, Lee Chun Soo took a free kick for Korea that flew narrowly over. Iraq seemed to dominate the last period, but failed to get enough players up to make a difference, Taher beat the Korean keeper from a narrow angle and watched his chance go just wide, but he had no support, so could not cross instead. Ahmed Abbas then again failed to justify his entrance, getting a header to a corner, but placing it directly at the Korean goalkeeper. In the final minute, a chance fell at the other end to Lee Dong Gook, who shot well over – this turned out to be the last opportunity, so penalties again were to settle the day

During the penalty shoot out, we heard a constant barrage of horns from Iraq supporters, while the Koreans chanted the names of the takers, or the keeper. The first six penalties were scored, although Haider Hussein’s only just squeezed under the Korean keepers body, then Yeom Ki Hun hit a soft one to Noor Sabri’s left, for a save, and Kim Jung Woo placed his against the post – giving Iraq a 4-3 win.

The game was at times enthralling and at times frustrating. Both sides have the ability, but neither could just apply the finishing touch required. I am never completely happy to see the game settled on penalties – it provides drama and may be great for the TV audience – but, and especially in cases like these two games at Bukit Jalil where there are no goals in 120 minutes, one feels that the teams have failed to do what they should have set out to do – that is score goals. Still, the celebrations at the end show that the winning side care little about this – only that they have reached the final