ATHENS, March 5 (Yonhap) – Opportunistic on offense and fortunate on defense, South Korea defeated Greece 2-0 in their pre-World Cup friendly match on Wednesday.
South Korea solved the usually stingy Greek defense once in each half, as forward Park Chu-young scored his first international goal in more than two years, and winger Son Heung-min added insurance later at Karaiskakis Stadium. The 61st-ranked South Korea improved to three wins and a draw all-time against the No. 12 Greece.
Since head coach Hong Myung-bo took over last June, South Korea has had five wins, six losses and three draws.
Greece hit the goal post once and the crossbar twice in the first half, unable to take advantage of South Korea’s shaky defense.
After a cautious start by both sides, it was South Korea that drew first blood in the 18th minute. Park took a floating feed from Son from the left wing as he sneaked in through the napping Greek defense, and let the ball bounce once before calmly putting it past goalkeeper Panagiotis Glykos.
After giving up the first goal, the Greeks turned their intensity up a notch, and came within inches of equalizing on three occasions in the first half.
In the 22nd, Kostas Katsouranis hit the near post on a wide open chance on the right side, after taking a low pass from Jose Cholevas. The feed froze South Korean defenders and goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong, but Katsouranis failed to capitalize.
At the half-hour mark, Greece hit the crossbar twice during a mad scramble following a corner. First, it was Vasilis Torosidis’ header that rang off the bar. Then with South Koreans standing around and watching the play develop, Avraam Papadopoulos pounced on the loose ball, only to nail the bar again.
With Greece unable to buy a goal, South Korea doubled the advantage in the 54th. Koo Ja-cheol set up Son sprinting down the left wing, and the Bayern Munich dynamo launched a high shot well out of Glykos’ reach and into the top shelf.
The home team kept on pressing, but Katsouranis missed the net high and wide after jumping on the loose ball in the 75th minute. Five minutes later, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos shot wide of the far post from the penalty spot.
For the much-maligned Park, playing in his first international match since February last year, the goal provided a moment of redemption.
The 28-year-old had spent the majority of recent seasons on the bench for Arsenal in the English Premier League, a frustrating situation that also kept him off the national team over the past year. Then in a dramatic reprieve from the Arsenal doghouse, Park was loaned to Watford in England’s second division, moments before the January transfer window in Europe closed.
Though he has yet to see much action with his new club, Park has been given a new life by Hong, who said he wanted at least one look at the forward before the World Cup.
Park now has 24 international goals, more than anyone on the current squad, in 62 matches.
Hong has repeatedly said this match would be the final test for players on the bubble for the World Cup roster. South Korea will play one more tune-up match before the big tournament, against Tunisia at home on May 28, but the World Cup squad will be announced the following day. It appears unlikely Hong will make a major roster change overnight based on one match.
After the match, Hong said he wanted to congratulate and thank his players for the job well done in a challenging environment.
“The players responded well to what we’d prepared for over the past two days here,” Hong said. “Scoring two goals is the most positive thing we take away from this victory.”
Hong was also effusive about Park’s performance.
“He had no problem fitting in with the rest of the team,” the coach said. “He had played with some of the guys here at the 2012 London Olympics, and I decided to start him after our final practice a day earlier.”
Hong said he substituted for Park to start the second half because of a minor injury to his left knee.
The coach added keeping Greece off the score sheet will also be a big boost to South Korea’s confidence, even though the goal post and the crossbar came into play.
“Our centerbacks held their ground, and I think this game must have been a good learning experience for them,” Hong said. “I am going to take my time deciding which players from this current group I will take to the World Cup.”