South Korea hang on for World Cup win over China
SEOUL: South Korea were lucky to survive a second-half onslaught from China in their 2018 World Cup qualifier on Thursday as they held on for a 3-2 home victory.
Three-nil up, the hosts suddenly had their backs to the wall after a thrilling 10 minutes of pressure saw China score twice and go close to a third.
Korea, who have lost just once in 19 matches since the Asian Cup final in January 2015, took the lead in fortunate fashion after 20 minutes.
Son Heung-min's free kick teased Chinese goalkeeper Zeng Cheng and Zheng Zhi directed the ball into his own net.
The Koreans went 2-0 up through Lee Chung-yong's powerful second-half header and the game looked dead and buried when Koo Ja-cheol bundled home Son's cross in the 66th minute.
The match was played against a backdrop of political tension between the East Asia neighbours over Seoul's decision to deploy an advanced U.S. anti-missile defence system to counter threats from North Korea.
The atmosphere at Seoul's World Cup stadium had an unusual dynamic after the Korea Football Association allocated 15,000 tickets to Chinese fans, with the entire south stand given over to the visitors to make security easier.
Those supporters were on their feet in the 75th minute when a poor clearance from Oh Jae-suk fell to Chinese midfielder Yu Hai and he slammed the ball past goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong.
After struggling to get a shot on target the entire game, China then grabbed a second goal two minutes later through Hao Junmin's superb free kick.
With the game on a knife-edge, the visitors almost claimed an equaliser when Ren Hang smashed a volley that was tipped over by Jung.
South Korea coach Uli Stielike said the tide turned due to the error that let China score their first goal.
"It was a pity Oh Jae-suk made a mistake after playing so well. That was a turning point and things got difficult," he said.
Chinese coach Gao Hongbo said the game would help his side in their remaining qualifiers.
"We are up against Iran next. They are another strong team with lots of experience," he explained.
"China lacks experience at the top level so in that sense I believe the Korea match helped a lot."
Korea next play Syria in Group A.