Doha: South Korea finished third at the Asian Cup after beating Uzbekistan 3-2 in a play-off Friday.
The victory in front of 8,000 spectators in the Al-Sadd Stadium sees the South Koreans qualify directly for the 2015 edition in Australia.
The 2010 World Cup finalists opened up a three-goal lead within the first 40 minutes from Koo Ja Cheol and a brace by Ji Dong Won, but then had to endure some anxious moments after Alexander Geynrikh pulled two back shortly before and after the break.
The final of the competition Saturday sees Japan seek an unprecedented fourth Asian Cup title against Australia, who have made it through to the championship match for the first time in their second participation at the showpiece of Asian football.
South Korean coach Cho Kwang Rae said he was very happy with his side’s performance in the first half. “We played three matches in a week and two of those were over 120 minutes.
“After an hour my players were tired.”
He said that his team had managed to show the world that his side played excellent football. “I want to continue working on this.”
The 56-year-old announced that Manchester United midfielder Park Ji Sung and defender Lee Young Pyo were retiring from international football with 100 and 127 caps respectively.
“It would be better if I could keep them and convince them to continue playing for the team, but the players have done well for South Korea and we have to accept their decision.”
His Uzbekistan counterpart Vadim Abramov said he was concerned when his side was three goals down. “I am not sure why the players made so many mistakes. At half-time I told them that they were going to lose face if they did not do better and then they did.”
South Korea dominated the early spell in the game against an Uzbekistan side changed on six positions following their 6-0 hammering by Australia in the semi-finals.
South Korean coach Cho Kwang Rae fielded a virtually unchanged side from the team that lost 3-0 on penalties to Japan in the other semi, but left out Park.
South Korea took took the lead after 17 minutes when Lee Yong Rae played the ball through to Koo, who made no mistake from close range.
It was his fifth goal of the competition to send him top of the scorer charts.
Ji made it 2-0 with a powerful header from a long cross into the area in the 28th minute, before scoring his side’s third after a fine one-touch football of four players in the 39th minute.
Uzbekistan were awarded a penalty shortly before the break when Hwang Jae Won pulled down Timur Kapadze in the area. Geynrikh scored with a cheeky lob over the diving Jung Sung Ryong, only to be told to retake it as some of his teammates had run into the area.
At the second attempt Geynrikh blasted the ball past the goalkeeper.
The Pakhtakor Tashkent forward reduced the lead to just one, eight minutes after the restart, after turning Korean defender Lee Jung Soo in the area.
Also in the second half, Ji could have completed a hat-trick when he beat goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov, only to see his ball hit the upright and bounce back into play.
South Korea then held on to the victory that sees them finish third for the third time in the last four editions.
At the end of the game the Korean players lifted Lee on their shoulders and carried him to the fans, where he received a standing ovation.