Son Heung-min steals the show as South Korea beat China in World Cup qualifier
SHENZHEN – South Korea maintained their strong position in the second round of Asian World Cup qualifiers when they defeated China 3-0 in Shenzhen on Nov 21, thanks to their captain Son Heung-min.
The Taeguk Warriors beat Singapore 5-0 at home on Nov 16, and they carried on the momentum in Group C when talisman Son struck an early goal from the penalty spot after Hwang Hee-chan was brought down in the box.
The Tottenham Hotspur forward, who scored the third goal against Singapore, kept his cool as he converted the spot kick in the 11th minute to silence the sell-out crowd of more than 40,000 at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre.
Just before half-time, Son made it 2-0 when his brilliant header flew into the back of the net from a Lee Kang-in corner.
The two goals proved to be enough as the South Koreans could afford to take their foot off the gas after the interval, with the Chinese barely threatening to score even on home soil.
Centre-back Jung Seung-hyun then headed in his first-ever goal for his national side to make it 3-0 in the 87th minute, assisted by Son from a free kick.
“It was a really difficult game today and obviously coming to China, it’s a great experience and they have amazing fans,” said Son after the match.
“But I think we deserved to get the three points, I think we played fantastic, we were well disciplined and we did a fantastic job.
“In the set pieces we always think there is a great chance to score the goal and obviously we practised different options... I’m really happy and pleased that I can score the header.”
The 31-year-old Son has now scored 41 international goals and is third on the all-time top scorer list behind Cha Bum-kun (58) and Hwang Sun-hong (50).
The result meant that the South Koreans lead the group with six points. Thailand, who beat Singapore 3-1 at the National Stadium, are level with China on three points.
When asked if this Korean team have what it takes to top the side who finished fourth at the 2002 home World Cup, Son added: “We want to be a special team and the best team in the history of Korean football, but I can’t say we are at the moment (there yet).”
In earlier matches, North Korea beat Myanmar 6-1 away to move level with Japan on three points at the top of Group B, before the Samurai Blue took on Syria.
Striker Jong Il-gwan was the star of the show after netting a hat-trick.
Malaysia clinched a 1-0 road win over Chinese Taipei thanks to Darren Lok’s 72nd-minute goal and like South Korea, have a perfect six points in Group D.
Running through to June 11, 2024, a total of 36 teams are competing in nine groups of four in a home-and-away round-robin format in the second round of the Asian qualifiers.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the third round.
Eight direct berths and one intercontinental play-off ticket for the 2026 World Cup held in Mexico, the United States and Canada are available for Asian Football Confederation (AFC) teams. - AFP, XINHUA