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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Korea held by Iran

Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung scored a second-half equalizer to give Korea Republic a 1-1 draw against Iran and close out their FIFA World Cup qualifying without a loss. The goal from team captain Park means Asian Group 2 winners Korea Republic end their qualifying campaign with four wins and four draws from their eight games, along with a coveted place at the table at South Africa 2010. Iran finish with 11 points and their hopes for advancing hinged on the result of the Saudi Arabi-Korea DPR match, which is to begin later today in Riyadh.

The scoring opened early in the second half when Mohammad Nosrati lofted in a cross that was met by a pack of Iranian and Korea Republic players in the goal mouth. Korea Republic keeper Lee Woon-Jae dived to deflect the ball, which replays appeared to show bounced off the leg of the charging Masoud Shojaei in the 51st minute.

Seven minutes later, Lee was tested again when he jumped to punch out a free kick by Mehdi Mahdavikia over a crowd of Iranian players. Korea Republic's Park Chu-Young had two close calls as the hosts tried to level the score.

In the 63rd minute, the Monaco forward dummied two defenders deep in the box to launch a left-foot shot, but Iranian keeper Mehdi Rahmati saved it with his left leg from point blank range. Two minutes later, Park banged a free kick off the left post with the frozen Rahmati helplessly looking on.

Salvation came for the Korea Republicans in the 80th minute, when Park Ji-Sung drove hard down the left wing. After a nifty back and forth with Lee Keun-Ho deep in the box, Park's shot sailed past defenders and the diving Rahmati.

A reinvigorated Korea Republic, already assured o first place in their group before the match, continued to press and very nearly won. In the 89th minute, Wigan's Cho Won-Hee had an open net to himself after some fine footwork in the box, but lost control of the ball.

Korea Republic had dominated early and Iran could not muster a shot on goal in the opening 25 minutes. But then Javad Nekounam tested Korea Republican keeper Lee Woon-jae from left of the arc to jump start Iran.

In the 26th minute, Mehdi Mahdavikia rolled a mid-range shot toward the net and forced Lee to make a diving save to his right. Nekounam bounced a free kick just inches past the left post in the 41st minute. In the dying moments of the first half, Masoud Shojaei intercepted a Korean back pass to unleash a left-foot strike. Lee barely got a piece of the bouncing shot and pushed it out of bounds.