|Players of the South Korean men's national team leave the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium in Beirut, Lebanon, after a 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifying match against Lebanon, Thursday. The game ended in a goalless draw. Yonhap|
By John Duerden
South Korea was held to a 0-0 tie against Lebanon in Beirut in Thursday's 2022 World Cup qualifier though stays on top of Group H. It was another flat performance from the team aiming to reach the World Cup for a 10th successive time.
Eight years ago, Korea lost to Lebanon in this same stadium, a result that cost coach Cho Kwang-rae his job. This time there was none of the fevered atmosphere in the arena that was completely empty due to the anti-government protests that have been taking place in Beirut.
It is something that is becoming familiar to the Taegeuk Warriors as the 0-0 tie in North Korea was also played in front of zero fans as authorities in Pyongyang decided to close the doors.
If there was no atmosphere ― and there was also a poor playing surface to deal with ―, there was not a great deal of action in a game that Korea should have won but for the second successive game did not take their chances.. The visitor did much of the attacking, came close to getting the all important goal but in the end just couldn't break the deadlock and take the three points.
There were chances. Son Heung-min headed just over after 13 minutes and just after the half hour, Hwang Hee-chan and Hwang Ui-jo both saw shots saved by the goalkeeper.
The closest Korea came was midway through the second half as Hwang Hee-chan headed against the crossbar from close range but at times it was hard to know which team was ranked 91 in the world and which was 39.
It could have been worse. Korea had the lion's share of attempts on goal (14 to 5) but Lebanon had its moments and also had eight corner kicks and a late appeal for a penalty had Korean hearts in their mouths before the referee told the players to carry on.
While it was not a great performance, the result was not a disaster especially as North Korea, who started the day, in second place lost 3-1 to Turkmenistan. That means that South Korea is still top with eight points from four games, one ahead of Lebanon and its northern neighbor.
Only the top team is assured of a place in the next stage. That should still be the Taegeuk Warriors who have three of the last four games at home and the sole away game is Sri Lanka, a team that lost 8-0 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province last month.
Still, assuming that South Korea does make it to the next stage, it will have to improve if it is going to take points of such teams as Australia, Japan and Iran.
Next though is a more glamorous match, a game against Brazil on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.