Korea beats Britain to reach 1st Olympic semifinal
Taegeuk Warriors to meet Brazil Wednesday
By Jung Min-ho
South Korea defeated Team Great Britain 5-4 in a dramatic penalty shootout Sunday (KST) to reach the Olympic semifinals after the game finished 1-1 following extra time.
This is the first time the Taegeuk Warriors have advanced to this stage of the football competition in the 64 years since Korea first competed in the Summer Games in 1948 when they were also held in London.
Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-yueng scored the winning spot kick to end the two-hour contest after Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge’s fifth penalty for Britain at the Millennium Stadium was saved.
Two Korean goalkeepers, Jung Sung-ryong and Lee Bum-young became the heroes of the night after each saved penalty attempts at critical moments.
“I thought the game would be very challenging. I think we won because our players were mentally stronger than the British players,” Korea manager Hong Myung-ho said after the match. “Our strategy was to keep pressuring the opposition players although it would be tough for us as well in terms of stamina. Team Korea deserves praise for the victory.”
Hong was a member of the 2002 FIFA Korea-Japan World Cup team, where he scored the winning penalty in the shootout against Spain to send Korea into the final four.
Korea went ahead when Sunderland forward Ji Dong-won found the Britain’s net with a long-range shot in the 29th minute as the Warriors and had the better first half. Ji had an earlier effort saved and Park Chu-young missed a great heading chance to open the scoring.
However, Team GB equalized from the spot six minutes later after Ryan Bertrand’s low shot hit the defender Oh Jae-suk’s hand in the penalty area and Aaron Ramsey’s shot just beat the keeper. The Wales captain then had the chance to give his side the lead. Britain was awarded a second penalty after Hwang Seok-ho was ruled to have felled Sturridge in the box but the home nation’s hopes of an Olympic football medal faltered when Jung saved it.
Britain showed more determination in the second half but Korea duly responded. The deadlock continued through extra time as the encounter looked ever more likely to be decided by penalties although Koo Ja-cheol had an effort saved and Ji had two good chances to put the tie to bed.
After each of the first four spot-kick takers converted for their country, Sturridge’s pause in his run up did not fool Lee who punched the attempt away.
Ki stepped up calmly with the crowd doing its best to distract him and, powerfully dispatched the ball into the left corner of the net.
It was a disappointing end for the 70,000 home fans who were hoping to spur their side on to the medal games.
“The first day we got together as a group we practiced penalties,” Britain's coach Stuart Pearce said. “Daniel (Sturridge) got the winner three days ago that got us out of the group stages, and today he misses the penalty. You have days like that, but he will benefit from it if my experience is anything to go by.”
The victory means Korea will face Brazil at Old Trafford on Wednesday (KST) for a place in the final. Ahead of the clash against the tournament favorites, which beat Honduras 3-2 the same day, Ji was confident, saying that there is still plenty of desire in the locker room.
“We've all come here to win a medal,” Ji said. “We never lost our focus until the end. I had chances to score in the second half and extra time, but the rest of the team did their best. We're all confident that we can achieve our goal.”
Former World Cup semifinalist and current Olympic team manager Hong also seems to believe Korea can repeat this victory against the Beijing Olympic bronze medalists.
“We know our next opponent is Brazil. After today’s match, however, we are not afraid of any team,” Hong said. “We will be ready for the game to live up to the fans’ expectation.”
Meanwhile, Japan will go head to head with Mexico at Wembley Stadium on the same night for the other place in the final.